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Legislative intent - When did legislators stop using legislative intent sections in bills?
LRL staff research
The response below as written in response to a question regarding legislative intent clauses and when they were discontinued in bills.
You wrote, "I will be introducing the topic of legislative history
and intent. My memory isn't serving well about when and why
Minnesota lawmakers discontinued the use of legislative intent
sections in bills. I have some hazy recall of the Senate making that
decision before the House. Could you point me to some material that will
remind me of when and why the change occurred?"
I spoke with Peter Wattson, who was Senate Counsel for about thirty
years. He said that the movement away from including legislative
intent clauses dates from at least the early 1980s. The practice of
not including legislative intent sections was codified, so to speak, for
the first time in the 1984 edition of the Revisors Manual. Peter
remembers editing that section, sent over to him at the time by Harry
Walsh in the Revisor's Office.
There are drafting instructions in the the 1984 Revisors Manual
regarding legislative intent. The first paragraph remains unchanged
in the most recent edition (2002), but the examples used in the
manuals have changed.
"A statement of purpose or policy, sometimes termed "legislative
intent" should be used only when essential. If the bill is otherwise
clear, as should be the case, a recitation of what the legislature
intended should serve no purpose. However, courts sometimes use policy
statements to interpret law, and a statement may be appropriate if
litigation about intent is expected."
The practice was formally stated in the Revisors Manual for the first time
in 1984, but Peter felt the practice may already have been in place.
There are problems with legislative intent sections, Peter noted.
Sometime senators would spend so much time debating the first general
paragraph that they would lose focus on working on the actual operative
language. Sometimes things may be stated broadly in a statement of intent
that are not covered in the actual language of the bill, creating
He remembered Senator Gerald Willet's impatience with detailed
legislative intent sections. "This thing reads like a novel," he
complained one time as he moved to strike the intent section of a