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AGO 1952 No. 205 - January 08, 1952
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

COSTS OF DETENTION OF MENTALLY ILL PERSONS PRIOR TO COMMITMENT.

Under section 51, chapter 139, Laws of 1951, the county shall bear the costs of detention of a mentally ill person when such costs cannot be borne by relatives or the estate, regardless of the fact that such mentally ill person qualifies for care under section 7, chapter 1, Laws of 1951.

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                                                                  January 8, 1952

Honorable J. A. Kahl, M.D.
Acting Director
State Department of Health
Smith Tower
Seattle 4, Washington                                                                                         Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 205

Dear Sir:

            We are in receipt of your letter of December 16, 1951, wherein you requested an opinion of this office on the question of whether the state or the county is liable for costs of detention of a mentally ill recipient of public assistance or a person without income and resources sufficient to secure them prior to court proceedings for commitment of such a person to a state institution.

            Our conclusion may be summarized as follows:

            Under section 51, chapter 139, Laws of 1951, when the court determines that neither the estate nor relatives of a mentally ill person can bear the costs of detention prior to court proceedings for commitment of such a person to a state institution, such costs shall be borne by the county, regardless of the fact that such mentally ill person is the recipient of public assistance or is without income and resources sufficient to secure them.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 51, chapter 139, Laws of 1951, provides in part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "After a person has been found mentally ill under section 20 of this act, the court shall inquire into the ability of the person's estate, or his spouse, parents or children, or any combination thereof, to pay the charges for transportations and hospitalization in a state hospital, detention pending proceedings, and court costs.  If the court finds that the patient's estate or above named relatives, or combination thereof, are able to pay such charges or any part thereof, an order to such effect shall be entered.  If the court finds that neither the patient's estate nor said relatives are able to pay the charge for transportation to and hospitalization in a state hospital, such costs shall be borne by the state of Washington.  If the court finds that neither the patient's estate nor above relatives can pay charges for detention pending proceedings or court costs, such costs shall be borne by the county.  * * *"  (Emphasis added)

            Under the above cited section of the new Mental Illness Hospitalization Act, it is clear that the county now must bear the costs of detention of a mentally ill person pending court proceedings when the court has made a finding that neither the estate nor named relatives are able to bear the charges.  Under previous legislation all costs incidental to hospitalization were unsegregated and were to be borne by the state on a finding of fact by the court that the insane person, his estate or relatives were unable to pay.  Section 1, chapter 72, Laws of 1947, (§ 6930 Rem. Supp. 1947).  A change in legislative purpose must be presumed from a material change in the wording of a statute.  In re Phillips' Estate, 193 Wash. 194, 74 P. (2d) 1015.

            It is to be observed that under section 7, chapter 1, Laws of 1951, the state through the department of health is responsible for providing necessary medical, dental and related services to recipients of public assistance and other persons without income and resources sufficient to secure them.  However, the presumption does exist that the legislature in enacting chapter 139, Laws of 1951, acted with full knowledge of the existing legislation of the Citizens' Security Act, chapter 1, Laws of 1951.  State v. Thornbury, 190 Wash. 549, 69 P. (2d) 815.  Therefore, the intention of the legislature must be that the county pay for the costs of detention of all mentally ill persons prior to commitment when such costs cannot be borne by relatives or the estate, despite the fact that such persons may qualify for care under section 7, chapter 1, Laws of 1951, and despite the fact that the costs of such care could generally be considered as a medical service cost and payable by the state.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            It is the opinion of this office that when a court determines that the estate or relatives of a mentally ill person cannot bear the costs of detention prior to court proceedings for commitment to a state institution, the county under section 51, chapter 139, Laws of 1951, shall bear such costs irrespective of whether or not such person is a recipient of public assistance or is a person without income or resources sufficient to secure them.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

BARBARA L. OHNICK
Assistant Attorney General

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