McGeorge Adjunct Professor Chris Micheli outside the California State Capitol

California, like most other states, uses sunset dates or sunset clauses in their legislation. It has the effect of making the law, what’s enacted, to expire on a specified date unless the Legislature enacts another bill to either extend or eliminate the sunset date.

Generally, we see sunset dates running from one to three years to as long as a decade or more. The sunset, or sometimes called expiration or expiry clauses in other jurisdictions, are generally used to allow the legislative branch to revisit a statute.

Sunset clauses are primarily used by state legislatures. The U.S. Congress uses them sparingly. One example is the federal PATRIOT Act, where several of its provisions have sunset provisions.

There are other instances when the Legislature may want a statute to be temporary in its application. For example, legislation that’s often viewed as experimental or being tried for the first time may be subjected to a sunset clause. The Legislature may want to check on how the law has worked for a few years before they decide to make it permanent.

Another example might be controversial legislation, which may be established with a sunset date as a possible compromise. Here, the Legislature may choose to give a contested bill an opportunity to prove itself.

A sunset clause may also be appropriate when a law is necessary to address a temporary situation or perhaps fulfill a short-term need, such as a state of emergency or a disruption in the economy. The Legislature may impose a sunset date to ensure that a review is automatically triggered before the statute will be extended or made permanent.

In California, we usually see the sunset or repeal clauses in one of two forms. It usually reads, “This section shall remain in effect only until December 1st, 2020. And as of that date is repealed.” or “This section shall become inoperative on July 1, 2020, unless a later enacted statute, which becomes operative on or before July 1, 2020, deletes or extends the date on which it becomes inoperative and is repealed.”

You can find the transcript of this post’s audio here.