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California’s Retroactive v. Prospective Legislation

The courts go through a process to determine whether the statutory language will or will not be applied

By Chris Micheli, March 8, 2022 6:49 am

In most instances, legislation applies prospectively, meaning after the law has been enacted and takes effect. Nonetheless, there are times when the Legislature desires statutes to be applied retroactively, and sometimes they also specify a prospective application date.

The following is an example of language that a bill is intended to apply retroactively:

The requirement to provide COVID-19 supplemental paid sick leave as set forth in this section shall take effect 10 days after the date of enactment of this section, at which time the requirements shall apply retroactively to January 1, 2021.

The following is an example of language where the Legislature states its intent that a court apply the bill retroactively:

It is the intent of the Legislature that a court interpret this section, as amended by the act adding this subdivision, in a manner consistent with the interpretation of this section as it read prior to January 1, 2013.

The following is an example of language that a bill is not intended to apply retroactively:

The amendments to this section made by Senate Bill No. 284 of the 2021–22 Regular Session (SB 284), shall not apply retroactively to injuries occurring before January 1, 2022.

The following is an example of language that a bill is intended to apply prospectively:

For individuals newly covered by this section by the amendments made to this section by SB 284, this section shall only apply to injuries occurring on or after January 1, 2022.

In all of the above examples, the Legislature either states the operative date of statutory language or the Legislature expresses its intent about when the statutory language will apply. In either instance, the courts go through a process by which they determine whether the statutory language will or will not be applied retroactively in specific circumstances.

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