When laws are written, debated and passed in the United States, there is a reason or purpose behind each one; that is, the law is intended to solve some problem or accomplish some goal of the legislature. At times, due to the legislative system and the somewhat esoteric language used in many legal situations, the purpose behind certain laws can be opaque at best. For this reason, as well as to give those interpreting laws some guidance, many state legislatures, like Florida, include a statement of ‘legislative intent’ in their legal codes.
These statements generally set out what the legislature was attempting to do with the law, and how it should be construed when applied to the facts of individual cases. These statements are not law themselves, and definitely do not substitute for the plain language included in the statute. Even with legislative intent declarations, poorly written laws cause many problems for the legal system as well as average citizens. However, in certain circumstances, such statements of intent clarify why certain laws act the way they do.
One example is in Florida’s guardianship laws. We have discussed previously that when a guardian is appointed for an incapacitated adult, that guardianship can be plenary or limited. Plenary guardians have control of all aspects of the ward’s life. Limited guardians, however only make decisions in specific categories with which the ward needs help. The reason for this is found in Florida Statute 744.1012, the statement of legislative intent for the laws dealing with guardianship.
Basically, the Florida Legislature recognized that, by appointing a guardian for an incapacitated person, the court was effectively removing that person’s civil rights. Because of this, the legislature wanted to make clear that the legal system should avoid taking away all decision-making power from individuals, if at all possible. Therefore, it has specifically stated that the state’s guardianship laws should be construed to allow people who are incapacitated to participate in decisions regarding their own lives as much as is practically possible, leading to the existence of concepts such as limited guardianship.