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California Senate Chambers. (Photo: Kevin Sanders for California Globe)

Legislature’s Instructions on Bill Intent and Interpretation

The Legislature provides some context and historical background

By Chris Micheli, October 14, 2022 6:40 am

On occasion, in California legislation, the reader will find either a statement of legislative intent (e.g., “It is the intent of the Legislature to …) or legislative findings and declarations (e.g., “The legislature finds and declares that …).

In other instances, the reader will come across bill language about how the Legislature wants specific statutory language to be construed by either the executive branch administrative agency or the judicial branch of government. In these cases, the bill may have particular language to emphasize its intent or the manner in which the Legislature desires the bill to be interpreted. Of course, this raises the question whether that administrative agency or the judiciary will follow those legislative instructions.

What is an example of this additional language? The following is taken from a recently-enacted bill from the 2022 Legislative Session:

This act shall be construed to effectuate its legislative intent to support access to abortion in California and build upon California’s commitment to be a reproductive freedom state. The United States Supreme Court overturned the protections to access abortion under Roe v. Wade. For decades, abortion funds, abortion providers, and other community-based organizations have provided direct and indirect support to callers and patients with logistical and practical support needs. The purpose of this act ensures that people seeking abortion care have access to the logistical and practical support resources needed to diminish barriers to care. The purpose of this act and all of its provisions, with respect to the powers granted, shall be interpreted to effectuate that intent and those purposes to support organizations in California that provide support and resources to people seeking abortion.

In the above bill language, the first clause directs how the bill’s language is to be “construed”: It is “to effectuate [the bill’s] legislative intent to support access…” Here, the Legislature is clear and unambiguous in its desire – when interpreting any provisions of the bill, keep in mind the legislative intent as stated.

Thereafter, the Legislature provides some context and historical background to explain why it has enacted this particular bill and what they are trying to accomplish. Following that, in fact, the Legislature explains: “The purpose of this act …” Here, the Legislature clearly states its intended purpose of the bill.

The concluding sentence in this section of the bill again utilizes straightforward language to not only state an additional purpose of the bill, but also to explain how the Legislature expects the bill to be interpreted. Nonetheless, despite language that the act and its provisions “shall be interpreted” in the specified manner, that is not binding on the courts of administrative agencies.

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