California Legislative History

California Legislative HistoryFor more than one hundred years, California state courts have looked to evidence of legislative intent in construing state law.  (See, for example, County of Yolo v. Colgan (1901) 132 Cal. 265)  Courts have traditionally examined statutory language in terms of the context from which it originated and the events giving it form and substance.  (Sutherland on Statutory Construction, 6th Ed. 2000, § 48.03)  To this end, courts will look to a wide variety of aides in analyzing legislative intent:

One ferrets out the legislative purpose of a statute by considering its objective, the evils which it is designed to prevent, the character and context of the legislation in which the particular words appear, the public policy enunciated and vindicated, the social history which attends it, and the effect of the particular language on the entire statutory scheme.

(Santa Barbara County Taxpayers Assn. v. County of Santa Barbara (1987) 194 Cal.App.3d 674, 680)

The most common source of legislative intent is the legislature itself. The California Legislature generates and attracts varying degrees of commentary on each bill, from the date it is introduced through the enrollment to the Governor after each House has reviewed and passed the measure.

The California Legislative Open Records Act,  pursuant to Government Code sections 9070, et seq., was enacted in 1975 and provides that Legislative public records as defined are open to inspection and that every citizen has a right to inspect and receive a copy of any public record with certain enumerated exceptions.

Types of California Legislative History Documents Available

We are able to locate California legislative history going back as far as 1850, which are usually in handwritten form at that time.  For every legislative session since the first one, we can locate each amended version of a bill.  Once the bill is signed into law, the Secretary of State assigns a chapter number for the new law within that session’s Statutes at Large.

Between the time that the bill is introduced and when it is chaptered into law, there are a lot of different types of materials that we can gather.  Since the bill will be assigned to Assembly and the Senate policy committees and, if applicable, to fiscal committees, for review, amendment, and either passage or defeat, these legislative policy and fiscal committees may have retained bill files on the legislation that we are able to access either directly from the committee or from its archival location at the State Capitol.

After the California Legislature’s enactments of open records laws in the 1970’s, files of the policy and fiscal committees are mostly accessible, along with the author of the bill.  The chaptered bill file for each Governor is also available, but not for any sitting Governor.

Prior to the open records statutes, the types of materials relating to legislation included the versions of the bill, final history and excerpts published in the Assembly and Senate Journals, publications by the Legislative Counsel’s Office on the bill, sponsor materials (i.e., the California State Bar, labor groups, teachers’ organizations, insurance commissioner, and state agencies, just to name a few), and, since 1943, governor’s chaptered bill files.  Also, prior to the Open Records Act we could locate task force reports, state agency reports, committee hearings transcripts, code commission drafts, published studies, and biographical materials relating to the legislator carrying the bill.

As importantly for all sessions since 1850 to the present, we provide California legislative history research of failed related bills from the same or prior legislative sessions – these failed bills’ legislative history materials shed significant insight regarding the development of the final, successful enactment.

The California Legislative process itself will generate analyses by the committees and offices for both Chambers.  The policy committee can hear testimony in support or opposition to the bill, amend and pass the bill or defeat it.  Once the bill is set for hearing, background information is collected from the author, the sponsor, proponents and opponents.  Where funding or monies are involved, the bill will be heard in the fiscal committee, which generates its own analyses on the bill in question.

After both Chambers have approved the bill, it will be presented to the Governor who has three possible actions available:  sign the bill into law, allow it to become law without the Governor’s signature, or veto the bill.  When the Governor vetoes, both Houses can override the veto with a two-thirds vote.  When the Governor’s staff receives information on the bill from its author, sponsor, state agencies (enrolled bill reports), proponents and opponents, these materials can be found in his chaptered bill file and are usually made public once the Governor leaves office.

How to Review California Legislative History Materials:

We recommend always begin by reading each amended version of the bill in question.  (See Murphy v. Kenneth Cole Productions, 40 Cal 4th 1094, 1107 (2007); Wells v. Onezone Learning Foundation, 39 Cal 4th 1164, 1191-1192 (2006); and Olmstead v. Arthur J. Gallagher & Co., 32 Cal. 4th 804, 814 (2004))  This will help you identify the broad policy framework within which you must analyze any individual section, word, phrase, or clause of interest to you.  Bills from 1967 to the present also contain a “Legislative Counsel’s Digest” within each amended version of the bill that provides a brief analysis prepared by the attorneys to the Legislature, outlining the main issues being addressed.

After reviewing each bill version carefully to determine how your specific research focus is being affected (i.e., statutory language being amended), you will need to review the analyses produced by the legislative committees and offices reviewing the bill as well as their file materials.  There are many questions that you need to ask, such as:

  • Who drafted the bill?  Was it the legislator’s staff, the sponsor, or legislative counsel, for example.
  • What was the background prompting the bill’s introduction?
  • What was the problem to be remedied or the circumstances being address?
  • Was this bill the product of an interim hearing, task force report or a study process?
  • Were there any other bills, competing or preceding this bill, in the legislature?
  • Do the materials contain specific discussion of your statutory language?

The materials in the bill files from the stakeholders promoting the legislation will include letters of support and analyses providing the purpose, rationale, and background for the legislation.  The California Supreme Court looked to “individual legislators’ (including co-authors’) comments from the Assembly and Senate committee file files.”  (White v. Ultramar, Inc. 21 Cal.4th 563, 572, fn. 3 (1999).  The state Supreme Court referred to these materials, among others judicially noticed, stating these materials were “expressions of legislative intent to construe it [the term “managing agent”] in the statute’s relative context. (Id., page 572)   In Quarterman v. Kefauver, 55 CA4th 1366 (1997), the First District court extracted the sponsor statements from legislative committee analyses.  Similarly, the Second District court in Soil v. Superior Court (55 CA4th, 872, 878-880 (1997) made several references to the statements of the sponsor of the legislation, and opponents, as found in legislative committee analyses.

How Legislative Intent Service, Inc. Aids Your Understanding of California Legislative History and Intent

Among the numerous documents relating to California legislative intent and California legislative history up at our website, we have prepared extensive and easy-to-use points and authorities citing to over 900 California court decisions relating to California legislative intent and  California legislative history materials.

For both our “custom” and “online store” research, we provide California legislative history documents in pdf format, organized chronologically so that you can follow the legislative development of the language in the bill as it was introduced and amended by the policy and fiscal committees reviewing this legislation.

For “custom” projects, we include our legislative history report and analysis which guides you through the legislative process of the legislation, focusing also on your specific section of interest and pointing out discussion in the materials relating to your issue in that section.  You can order our report for online store research if you wish.

Also for our “custom” projects, we provide our declaration to authenticate the materials we have gathered on the legislative bill.  It serves to assist your judicial notice motion and it serves as a list of the materials we provided to you.  You can order a declaration for online store research if you wish.