McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli

Most capitol observers don’t often come across bills that delineate between general or special statutes. What’s the difference? A general statute is essentially a law that pertains uniformly to an entire community or to all persons generally. On the other hand, a special statute is essentially a law that applies to a particular person, place, or interest. California law provides for both types of statutes.

Section 16 of Article IV of California’s Constitution provides that all laws of a general nature have uniform operation and that a local or special statute is invalid in any case if a general statute can be made applicable. As a result, general statutes are the main type of bills considered by the Legislature and they apply uniformly by their language. However, special statutes can be pursued so long as a general statute would not apply in the particular circumstance being addressed by the special statute.

The Office of Legislative Counsel, working with the bill’s author, makes a determination as to whether a special statute will pass constitutional muster and, if so, how the bill must be drafted to do so.

The initial determination is whether the proposed legislation can be addressed by a bill of general application. If not, then a special law would be required. With a special statute bill a reader may see the following type of language in that bill, “The Legislature finds and declares that a special law is necessary and that a general law cannot be made applicable within the meaning of Section 16 of Article IV of the California Constitution because …” blank, and Legislative Counsel helps draft the language that fills in the blank.

Thereafter the bill must contain an explanation of the special nature of the bill and why a bill of general application will not work in the particular set of circumstances. An example of this explanatory language is the following, taken from a prior enacted bill, “The unique island location of the City of Coronado and its proximity to large military installations requires a special law. In addition, the complexities of amending a general plan and a local coastal plan for the City of Coronado will take significantly longer than six months. As a result, a general law cannot be made applicable.”

You can read the full transcript of today’s podcast here.