McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli outside the California State Capitol

All measures in the California Legislature are required to prominently display the Legislative Counsel’s Digest on the front page of the bill. So, what is this required section of every measure?

According to the Legislative Counsel’s glossary of terms, the Digest is prepared by the Legislative Counsel and it summarizes the effect of a proposed bill on current law. It is on the first page of every bill, resolution, or constitutional amendment that is introduced or amended in the Legislature. It is listed after the measure’s number, the listed author and co-authors, and the relating clause. Notably, it appears before the actual text of the measure.

In essence, the nonpartisan Legislative Counsel’s Office is explaining to legislators what they’re voting on with regards to that particular measure. Those who engage in legislative history and intent research often view the Legislative Counsel’s Digest as an important indication of the general legislative intent because the Digest provides a summary of existing law and how the bill actually proposes to change existing law.

Sometimes interest groups, lobbyists, even lawyers will attempt to modify the Digest language when they’re drafting amendments to a measure; or, when they’re drafting a bill to be introduced, they try to draft the Legislative Counsel’s Digest. These attempts are generally ignored entirely because the Digest is only written and modified by the Legislative Counsel Bureau.

The Legislative Counsel’s Digest contains at least two paragraphs. The first paragraph always begins with existing law and will state “Existing law provides for X.” The second paragraph always begins with “This bill would …” or in the case of a constitutional amendment, “This measure would …” before going on to explain how the bill or measure would impact existing law.

The Digest contains explanations of other provisions of the particular measure, such as whether the bill would impose a state‑mandated local program, whether the bill contains an appropriation, whether it requires reimbursement for some state‑mandated program, whether the bill contains an urgency clause or it’s a tax increase and therefore requires a higher vote threshold, among other provisions.

Note that the Digest is separate from the Digest Keys. Those keys are the measure’s vote threshold, if the bill contain an appropriation, if it requires referral to a fiscal committee, and if it creates a state-mandated local program. The keys follow the Digest.

You can find the transcript of today’s audio here.

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