One way to determine the legislative intent behind a particular bill is to review a letter to the Daily Journal for that measure. While you may find the same letter for a bill in the Daily Journal of both houses, generally a letter related to an Assembly Bill is found in the Assembly Daily Journal and a letter related to a Senate Bill is found in the Senate Daily Journal. These letters are used by the author of the bill to, among other things, explain ambiguity in the measure or explain the purpose of the particular changes in the law that are being done by the bill.
In either house, the process of submitting a letter is a pretty formal matter. The letter has to be on the legislator’s letterhead and signed by the legislator. The general custom and practice of both houses of the California Legislature is to have the respective leadership staff, meaning both the majority and minority party staff, review the contents of these proposed letters to the Journal and determine whether either party has an objection. If staff and leadership on both sides of the aisle approve of the contents, then the letter is published. But what happens is approval is not received by folks on both sides of the aisle?
In this case, the author of the letter, the legislator, can request that the letter be printed by a roll call vote of the house. If such a request is made, then it only takes a simple majority of those present and voting to approve the printing of that letter in the respective house’s Daily Journal. And while only a simple majority is necessary, usually letters to the Journal are passed with unanimous consent.
California courts can use these letters to help determine the intent of the Legislature. Although different versions of the bill, committee analyses, floor analyses, and other items of extrinsic evidence are generally given greater weight than these letters to the Journal. Nonetheless, for advocates and practitioners, these journal letters may frankly be the best indicator that’s available regarding the intent of the bill’s author.
You can find the transcript of the audio in today’s podcast here.