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Is There a Difference Between Intent and Policy in Statutes?

In some ways, statements of intent and policy are similar

By Chris Micheli, March 25, 2022 6:19 am

Readers of bills and statutes will regularly come across statements of legislative intent, such as paragraphs that usually begin with either “It is the intent of the Legislature to …” or “The Legislature finds and declares that …” On other occasions, readers may come across statements that “it is the policy of the state.”

For example, a plus section at the end of a bill provides:

It is the policy of this state that all state agencies, boards, and commissions shall utilize their authorities in furtherance of the biodiversity conservation purposes and goals of Executive Orders B-54-18 and N-82-20.

OR

It is the policy of this state that public agencies shall not approve projects as proposed that are inconsistent with or would impair the successful implementation of the strategies required by subdivision (b).

These two examples establish a policy of the state. This leads to the question of whether there is any legal or other significance between “intent” and “policy.” Neither term is defined in state law. However, based upon the historical usage of these two terms, we have a general idea of how they are used in statutes.

In some ways, statements of intent and policy are similar and, of course, they are both made by the Legislature, even though policy statements generally do not include an introductory statement like intent ones do. But there are some differences between the two.

In reviewing numerous statutes and bills, we find that the statements of legislative intent are more often specific in nature, but they can sometimes be general statements as well. Policy statements are generally broader, expressing goals, rather than being specific in nature. While there are exceptions to these generalities, they are used for different purposes.

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