We sometimes hear statements around the California State Capitol about codified versus uncodified laws. What’s the difference?
Essentially, codified laws are those that are contained in the Codes for the State of California. There are 29 codes in California, beginning with the Business and Professions Code and ending with the Welfare and Institutions Code, with 27 other Codes in between. Codified laws are those that are of general applicability and are permanent in nature.
As a general rule, uncodified laws are those that originate from court decisions (common law) and general customs and practices. They are not viewed as being permanent in nature and they are usually of a specific, rather than general, nature. Nonetheless, there are laws that are enacted that are not placed in one of those Codes and therefore not codified (i.e., they remain uncodified). The biggest example of an uncodified law is the annual state budget bill.
However, whether codified or uncodified, both are written laws that were passed by the Legislature and signed into law by the Governor. While codified laws are often easily found in those 29 Codes, uncodified laws are sometimes more difficult to locate. For example, a researcher may need to review the California Statutes and Amendments to the Codes in order to find uncodified laws from a particular legislative session.
The California Statutes and Amendments to the Codes is a permanent record of all the laws passed by the California Legislature. The first version was published in 1850 and the Legislative Counsel Bureau continues to compile and publish these volumes annually. The laws are published in chronological order and the annual volumes include constitutional amendments, approved voter initiatives and referenda, and the summary digest of all bills passed. In addition, Statutes and Amendments to the Codes includes tables of Code sections affected, vetoed bills, and cross-reference tables from bill number to Chapter Number. There is also a subject index for each Legislative Session.
Practitioners are expected to be aware of any relevant uncodified language that could impact their clients.
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