In reading bills in the California Legislature, you may encounter findings and declarations, or intent statements, or a combination of the two. Which should be given greater weight by the courts? Or are they of equal weight? Does it matter if one is codified and the other is not? These and other questions could be raised when determining how these types of statements should viewed, particularly by the judicial branch of state government.
The following is a recent example from a bill introduced in the 2023 California Legislative Session with the legislative findings and declarations contained in Section One of the bill (and would be uncodified if the bill were enacted) and the statements of legislative intent contained in Section Two of the bill (and would be codified if the bill were enacted):
SECTION 1 (in part):
The Legislature finds and declares all of the following:
(a) California has long had a homeless animal overpopulation problem, too often leading to overcrowded shelters despite cities and counties across the state collectively investing more than $378,000,000 annually in operating our public animal shelters.
(b) Homeless animal overpopulation has been exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in overpopulated shelters having to euthanize family-friendly animals solely for space.
(c) California took in 472,840 homeless cats and dogs in 2021. Of those animals, 37,021 were tragically euthanized.
(d) The state’s overall save rate of 82.7 percent is low for this day and age. California has the second-highest shelter animal kill rate in the nation, behind Texas.
(e) The single most effective mechanism for addressing shelter overpopulation is spaying and neutering.
SECTION 2 (in part):
Food and Agricultural Code Section 32151.
It is the intent of the Legislature that fund moneys are disbursed to eligible partners to reduce all of the following:
(a) The overpopulation of unwanted or homeless dogs and cats, including feral or community cats.
(b) Animal shelter overpopulation.
(c) The ongoing costs associated with managing animal shelters.
(d) The state’s euthanasia rates for dogs and cats, including feral or community cats.
Of course, these two sections could be reversed in another bill. For example, the legislative findings and declarations could be uncodified and the intent statements could be uncodified. Or, both sets could be uncodified or both could be codified in statute. Are there any differences in how these provisions are enacted? Should the courts interpret them differently, or give greater weight to one set of statements or the other?
In terms of codification or not, courts may give equal weight to both of the sections above, even though only Section 2 (the four legislative intent statements) would be codified. Other commentators see a different between language being codified versus uncodified with less weight being given to uncodified language.
Is there a distinction, or should there be one, between legislative findings and declarations versus legislative intent statements? What is the difference between these two types of statements by the Legislature? Is there a legal distinction? Is one set more important than the other? How has the judicial branch utilized these, if at all?
Legislative findings and declarations usually set forth a factual basis or purpose for the proposed legislation, while legislative intent statements usually set forth the intent of the Legislature. Courts, unfortunately, do not always rely upon either of these types of statements in statutory interpretation cases. As a result, there is inconsistent reliance upon enacted findings or intent statements. To what extent the courts should consider, or rely upon, these statements is often debated in legal circles.
Again, there are some judges and legal commentators, in debating the merits of codified statutes versus intent and purpose statements, who believe there should be a distinction between enacted provisions and findings. Others do not distinguish between statutory provisions and legislative findings or intent statements. Still others believe there should be absolute judicial deference for these types of statements because they are within the lawmaking power of the legislative branch of state government. They are enacted law and should be considered in the same way as other enacted laws are and the deference they are normally given.
Unfortunately, while findings (based upon factual statements generally) and intent statements are often helpful in providing broad guidance regarding the general purpose of a statute or statutory scheme, they do not often provide assistance in legal disputes, which usually involve interpretation of words found in a statute because those legislative statements rarely set forth why particular words in a statute were or were not included.
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