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AGO 1960 No. 154 - October 27, 1960
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

CITIES AND TOWNS - FOURTH CLASS - AUTHORITY TO PAY PREMIUM ON HOSPITAL AND SURGICAL INSURANCE FOR VOLUNTEER FIREMEN WHILE OFF DUTY OR FOR DEPENDENTS.

A town may not legally purchase hospital and surgical insurance covering volunteer firemen while off duty or purchase such insurance to cover the dependents of such firemen.

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                                                                October 27, 1960

Honorable Don L. Talley
State Senator, 18th District
814 North 1st
Kelso, Washington                                                                                           Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 154

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            May a town legally purchase and pay the premium on hospital and surgical insurance covering volunteer firemen and their dependents while on duty and while off duty?

            We answer your question in the negative as qualified in the analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The fundamental rule governing our decision is that a municipal corporation, such as a town, has only the power expressly granted to it by statute, and those which are necessarily implied from the powers expressly granted.  Any doubt as to the existence of a power must be denied.  Pacific First Federal Savings and Loan Association v. Pierce County, 27 Wn. (2d) 347, 178 P. (2d) 351 (1947).

            Chapter 41.24 RCW provides for the payment of certain benefits to volunteer firemen and their dependents, including disability payments, death benefits, hospitalization and surgery, and retirement pensions.  In each case however,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] the statutes provide that the condition for payment is the disability, death, sickness, injury, or retirement of the fireman himself, and that it must be ". . . in consequence or as the result of the performance of his duties, . . ." (cf. RCW 41.24.150, 41.24.160, 41.24.210).  There is no authorization for direct coverage for dependents, or coverage for volunteer firemen while off duty.

            RCW 41.24.020, it is true, does provide "That nothing herein shall prohibit any municipality from providing such additional protection for relief and compensation, or death benefit as it may deem proper . . ." This provision, however, does not by its terms authorize coverage for persons who are not firemen, or coverage for volunteer firemen while they are not acting as firemen.  The problem then is to determine what the legislature meant by this proviso, since the only object of construing a statute is to ascertain the meaning and intention of the legislature.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn. (2d) 326, 142 P. (2d) 488 (1943).

            The legislative intent is to be determined from reading the act itself, construing terms and provisions therein according to their ordinary meaning, and giving consideration to the purposes and objects sought to be accomplished by the legislative enactment.  State ex rel. State Retirement Board v. Yelle, 31 Wn. (2d) 87, 195 P. (2d) 646 (1948); Graffell v. Honeysuckle, 30 Wn. (2d) 390, 191 P. (2d) 858 (1948).  In the construction of a particular statute or in the interpretation of its words or provisions, all acts relating to the subject or having the same general purpose should be read together as constituting one law, and an endeavor should be made to ascertain the uniform and consistent legislative purpose.  Words should be construed as used in the same sense, unless otherwise indicated by the context or nature of things.  State ex rel. American Piano Co. v. Superior Court, 105 Wash. 676, 178 Pac. 827 (1919).

            Construing RCW 41.24.020 with the other provisions of the same chapter, and in order to give effect to the purpose and policy of the entire act, as we are constrained to do, we conclude that the policy of Chapter 41.24 RCW is to provide benefits to certain firemen and to protect them from various contingencies in the performance of their duties as firemen.  We further conclude that RCW 41.24.020,supra, at most impliedly permits a municipal corporation to provide additional protection to those firemen and to protect against those contingencies such as contributing to a group plan covering firemen and providing additional benefits of the same kind.  However, in our opinion, the statutes do not expressly or by necessary implication authorize coverage for persons who are not firemen or for sickness or injury to a fireman not incurred in the actual performance of his duties as a fireman.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            We trust this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBER F. HAUTH
Assistant Attorney General

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