GENERAL LEGAL PRINCIPLES; STATUTORY CONSTRUCTION – General Principles
Single Topic for Decision 1958E
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1407.01000 – General Principles
In construing a statute, we begin with the fundamental rule that we should ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. (Moyer v. Workmen’s Comp. Appeals Bd. (1973) 10 Cal.3d 222, 230 (Moyer); North Orange County Regional Occupational Program (1990) PERB Decision No. 857 (NOCROP.) “Where the language of a statute is clear and unambiguous, the construction intended by the Legislature is obvious from the language used.” (NOCROP and cases cited therein.) Additionally, statutes are to “be given a reasonable and common sense interpretation consistent with the apparent purpose and intention of the lawmakers.” (DeYoung v. City of San Diego (1983) 147 Cal.App.3d 11, 18; Inglewood Unified School District (1991) PERB Order No. Ad-222.) The reasonable and commonsense interpretation of the word “district” in the terms “district policies” and “district programs” in EERA section 3540.1(g) is that they are policies which have to be approved at the district level and programs which were created with district level approval. Moreover, we find there is no language in EERA which indicates the Legislature intended the words “district policies” to mean “district-wide policies.” The same is true under another well established cannon of judicial construction, that “every statute should be construed with reference to the whole system of which it is a part so that all may be harmonized and have effect.” (Joint Powers Board of Directors, Tulare County Organization for Vocational Education, Regional Occupational Center and Program (1978) PERB Decision No. 57 citing People v. Hacker Emporium, Inc. (1971) 15 Cal.App.3d 474, 477.) “Where the provisions of a statute are subject to two or more reasonable interpretations, that which will harmonize rather than conflict with other provisions thereof should be adopted.” (San Bernardino City Unified School District (1989) PERB Decision No. 723 citing People v. Kuhn (1963) 216 Cal.App.2d 695, 698.) As a matter of statutory construction, “a word or phrase repeated in a statute should be given the same meaning throughout. [Citation omitted.]” (People v. Nguyen (1999) 21 Cal.4th 197, 205.) Giving the same meaning to “district policies” in both EERA sections 3540 and 3540.1(g), we find that the Legislature intended the term “district policies” in EERA section 3540.1(g) to mean any policy decision by community college district boards whether the policies apply district-wide or to individual colleges. We decline to reevaluate the conjunctive versus disjunctive issue regarding EERA section 3540.1(g) because the Legislature has indicated that it agrees with Lompoc Unified School District (1977) EERB Decision No. 13’s (Lompoc) interpretation. In doing so we are guided by the fundamental rule in construing a statute that the court (of PERB) should ascertain the intent of the Legislature so as to effectuate the purpose of the law. (NOCROP citing Moyer.) In Sonoma County Bd. of Education v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (1980) 102 Cal.App.3d 689, 700 (Sonoma), the reviewing court was tasked with interpreting the scope of a statute where the meaning and effect had earlier been analyzed in an opinion of the attorney general. Relevant to this case, the Sonoma court held that “the failure of the Legislature to amend the statute following publication of the Attorney General’s opinion supports an inference that the legislative intent therein was correctly construed [citations omitted] . . .” The Sonoma court noted with regard to opinions of the attorney general that such an official interpretation is not controlling but it is nevertheless entitled to great weight. (Sonoma, supra, at p. 699.) We opine that the same is true, if not more so, of PERB opinions given courts have uniformly held that PERB’s construction is to be regarded with deference by a court performing the judicial function of statutory construction, and will generally be followed unless it is clearly erroneous. (San Mateo City School Dist. v. Public Employment Relations Bd. (1983) 33 Cal.3d 850, 856.) We therefore find that the same inference can be drawn from the Legislature’s failure to amend a statute after PERB has interpreted the Legislature’s intent as to such statutory language. For the same reason we find that there is an inference that the Legislature’s intent is properly expressed in Lompoc as to EERA section 3540.1(g). The language of Section 3540.1(g) is the same today as it was when enacted in 1975. (Stats. 1975, ch. 961, sec. 2, p. 2248.) The Legislature has not amended it to have a meaning different than that articulated in Lompoc in 1977. This inference becomes even stronger with the Legislature’s use of the same disjunctive word, “or”, in its definition of management employee in HEERA. Notably, HEERA’s statutory provision defining “management employee” was enacted after PERB interpreted EERA section 3540.1(g) in Lompoc.