What Bill Drafting Guidance Do We Have from the California Constitution?

When drafting legislation in California, there are several sources of guidance in drafting bills and other forms of legislation (resolutions and constitutional amendments). The first source is the California Constitution. What legislation drafting guidance is contained in the state Constitution?

Urgency Clauses

California’s Constitution in Article IV, Section 8(d) provides, in part, the following: “Urgency statutes are those necessary for immediate preservation of the public peace, health, or safety. A statement of facts constituting the necessity shall be set forth in one section of the bill.” 

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter how to address urgency clause bills. It defines what constitutes an urgency statute, and sets forth the requirement that a statement explaining why the bill is an urgency statute must be drafted and included in the bill. This is done so at the end of a bill in a “plus section.” An urgency bill must include not only the urgency clause, but also an explanation to justify the urgency of the bill’s provisions.

Measures Submitted to the Voters

Article IV, Section 8.5 provides the following: “An act amending an initiative statute, an act providing for the issuance of bonds, or a constitutional amendment proposed by the Legislature and submitted to the voters for approval may not do either of the following: (a) Include or exclude any political subdivision of the State from the application or effect of its provisions based upon approval or disapproval of the measure, or based upon the casting of a specified percentage of votes in favor of the measure, by the electors of that political subdivision.

(b) Contain alternative or cumulative provisions wherein one or more of those provisions would become law depending upon the casting of a specified percentage of votes for or against the measure.”

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter to be aware of limitations when amending an initiative, issuing a bond, or adopting a constitutional amendment. These limitations are to ensure that areas of the state are not discriminated against, or that different vote outcomes will have different impacts on supporters or opponents.

Single Subject Rule

Article IV, Section 9 provides, in part, the following: “A statute shall embrace but one subject, which shall be expressed in its title. If a statute embraces a subject not expressed in its title, only the part not expressed is void.”

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter to determine whether a bill and its title contain a single subject matter. California bills are bound by the “single subject rule,” meaning that a bill cannot include unrelated provisions to that one main subject. Not only do the substantive provisions of law contained in a bill need to be the same subject matter, but also that needs to be expressed in the bill’s title, and the drafter needs to ensure that the title expresses that subject matter accurately.

Reenactment Rule

Article IV, Section 9 provides, in part, the following: “A section of a statute may not be amended unless the section is re-enacted as amended.” 

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter to include the entire code section in a bill regardless of how much of that code section is being amended by the bill. California bills are bound by the “reenactment rule,” meaning that an entire code section that is amended must be reenacted in its entirety by the bill, even if only a single word is changed.

Budget Legislation Requirements

Article IV, Section 12 provides, in part, the following: “(c) (1) The budget shall be accompanied by a budget bill itemizing recommended expenditures…. (d) No bill except the budget bill may contain more than one item of appropriation, and that for one certain, expressed purpose. Appropriations from the General Fund of the State, except appropriations for the public schools and appropriations in the budget bill and in other bills providing for appropriations related to the budget bill, are void unless passed in each house by rollcall vote entered in the journal, two-thirds of the membership concurring.”

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter to draft the budget bill (as well as the budget bill(s) junior) with the itemized expenditures for all governmental entities, as well as budget trailer bills, which can contain multiple items of appropriation as well. This provision also gives guidance to the drafter that non-budget bills may only contain a single item of appropriation.

General v. Special Statutes

Article IV, Section 16 provides: “(a) All laws of a general nature have uniform operation. (b) A local or special statute is invalid in any case if a general statute can be made applicable.”

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter to determine whether a bill proposes a general statute or a special statute. If a special statute is required for certain, unique reasons, then the bill must state that it is a “special statute,” along with a brief explanation why a general statute cannot apply in this bill’s circumstance(s).

Limit on Public Official Compensation

Article IV, Section 17 provides: “The Legislature has no power to grant, or to authorize a city, county, or other public body to grant, extra compensation or extra allowance to a public officer, public employee, or contractor after service has been rendered or a contract has been entered into and performed in whole or in part, or to authorize the payment of a claim against the State or a city, county, or other public body under an agreement made without authority of law.”

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter that they cannot draft a bill that would grant extra compensation to any public officials, employees, or contractors, nor can a bill authorize any local jurisdiction to do the same. Also, this provision provides guidance that a bill cannot be drafted that would all claims payments to be made without an agreement having been in place.

Limits on Legislative Powers

Article IV, Section 19 provides, in part, the following: “(a) The Legislature has no power to authorize lotteries, and shall prohibit the sale of lottery tickets in the State. (b) The Legislature may provide for the regulation of horse races and horse race meetings and wagering on the results. (c) Notwithstanding subdivision (a), the Legislature by statute may authorize cities and counties to provide for bingo games, but only for charitable purposes. … (e) The Legislature has no power to authorize, and shall prohibit, casinos of the type currently operating in Nevada and New Jersey.”

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter that they cannot draft a bill to authorize lotteries or casino-type operations. However, this provision does allow bills to be drafted concerning horse racing or charitable bingo games at the local level.

Prohibition on Use of Urgency Clauses

Article IV, Section 28 provides: “(a) Notwithstanding any other provision of this Constitution, no bill shall take effect as an urgency statute if it authorizes or contains an appropriation for either (1) the alteration or modification of the color, detail, design, structure or fixtures of the historically restored areas of the first, second, and third floors and the exterior of the west wing of the State Capitol from that existing upon the completion of the project of restoration or rehabilitation of the building conducted pursuant to Section 9124 of the Government Code as such section read upon the effective date of this section, or (2) the purchase of furniture of different design to replace that restored, replicated, or designed to conform to the historic period of the historically restored areas specified above, including the legislators’ chairs and desks in the Senate and Assembly Chambers.”

This constitutional provision instructs the bill drafter that they cannot draft a bill with an urgency clause if the bill deals with the historical west wing of the State Capitol, or the purchase of furniture for the historical areas of the Capitol, including the Chambers.

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