McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli outside the California State Capitol

Pursuant to Article IV, Section 9 of the California State Constitution, each bill must have a title. In fact, the State Constitution specifically states, “A statute shall embrace but one subject which shall be expressed in its title. If a statute embraces a subject not expressed in its title, only the part not expressed is void. A statute may not be amended by reference to its title.”

The purpose of the title is to provide a description of the bill for purposes of the public and legislators, and bill drafters usually draft the bill’s title after drafting the contents of the bill. Because each bill is required to contain only one broad subject matter, that subject matter must also be expressed in the bill’s title. Again, pursuant to California’s Constitution, an enacted bill is void if the subject is not properly expressed in the bill’s title.

As a general rule, the title needs to be broad enough to be germane to the general subject matter of the bill. The title should not be so narrow that it is essentially a detailed description of what the bill does or how the bill does it – otherwise, any provisions that did not fit that detailed description would be held invalid. But on the other hand, the title should not be so broad as to conceal the true nature or contents of the provisions of the bill.

For example, a reader of a bill might see a bill with a title like An Act Relating to Personal Income Tax. You wouldn’t want to find a title of the same bill as, “An Act Relating to Personal Exemptions Under the Income Tax Law for Persons 65 Years of Age or Older,” because if the title were to include a detailed description of the subject of the bill, then the title would have to basically express every detail of the bill or else any detail not included in the title could be held invalid.

On the other hand, a bill title cannot be so broad that it does not meet the constitutional requirements in Article IV, Section 9. One example of a bill in Oregon that would not meet the requirements in California’s Constitution was titled “An Act Relating to the Activities Regulated by State Government.” Oregon’s Supreme Court said that the bill failed to identify a single subject because it was so broad that it did “little more than define the universe with respect to which the legislature is empowered to act.”

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