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AGO 1951 No. 004 - April 04, 1951
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Smith Troy | 1941-1952 | Attorney General of Washington

SINGLE SUBJECT IN LEGISLATIVE ACT.

An act providing for the support of the state government may combine general appropriations and a tax.

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                                                                    April 4, 1951

Honorable Charles W. Hodde
Speaker of theHouse of Representatives
Olympia, Washington                                                                                               Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 4

Dear Sir:

            This is in answer to your verbal inquiry as to whether the inclusion in Substitute House Bill No. 1 of the Extraordinary Session of the Thirty-Second Legislature of both appropriations and an excise tax upon corporations renders it unconstitutional as in violation of section 19, Article II of the State Constitution, which reads:

            "No bill shall embrace more than one subject, and that shall be expressed in the title."

            It is our opinion that Substitute House Bill No. 1 contains only one subject and that is the support of the state government, and all portions of the bill are germane to that subject, and the bill does not violate the provisions of section 19, Article II of the Constitution.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Substitute House Bill No. 1 contains the general appropriations for the biennium beginning April 1, 1951, and levies an excise tax upon corporations.  The title to the bill reads as follows:

            "AN ACT Providing for the support of the state government, making appropriations for salaries, operations, maintenance and other expenses of state institutions, departments and offices, for the purchase,  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] condemnation and improvement of land, the construction of buildings and improvements for the various state institutions designated and mentioned, and for emergencies, and for refunds, and for the relief of certain individuals, corporations, counties and municipalities, and for transfers, and for deficiencies, and for appropriation of revolving funds, and for sundry civil expenses of the state government, and for public assistance, and for purposes specified in certain acts of Congress, and for miscellaneous purposes, for the fiscal biennium beginning April 1, 1951, and ending March 31, 1953, except as otherwise provided, imposing an excise tax upon corporations, prescribing penalties, and declaring that certain parts of this act shall take effect immediately, and that certain other parts shall take effect May 1, 1951."

            The general subject of the act is expressed in the first part of the title:

            "AN ACT Providing for the support of the state government, * * *"

            This is a broad title.

            Our Supreme Court has held that the legislature may choose to legislate upon a broad and comprehensive subject and may include within a single piece of legislation all matters in any way germane thereto.  The breadth of the subject which the legislature may choose is largely a matter of legislative discretion.

            In the recent case ofCasco Company et al. v. Public Utility District No. 1 of Thurston County et al., 137 Wash. Dec. 726 [[37 Wn.2d 777]], our Supreme Court adopted the language from 50 Am.Jur. 178, Statutes, § 197, as follows:

            "'The constitutional prohibition of more than one subject in an act does not impose any limitation on the comprehensiveness of the subject, which may be as comprehensive as the legislature chooses to make it, provided it constitutes, in the constitutional sense, a single subject and not several.  To constitute plurality of subject, an act must  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] embrace two or more dissimilar and discordant subjects, that by no fair intendment can be considered as having any legitimate connection with or relation to each other.  Within the meaning of the constitutional provision, matters which apparently constitute distinct and separate subjects are not so where they are not incongruous and diverse to each other.  Generally speaking, the courts are agreed that a statute may include every matter germane, referable, auxiliary, incidental, or subsidiary to, and not inconsistent with, or foreign to, the general subject or object of the act.'"

            The principle of law just stated has been applied numerous times by our Supreme Court, and in the case just cited the Supreme Court sustained an act which combined provisions: imposing a tax upon public utility districts for the support of the schools, authorizing several utility districts to combine to acquire property, and establishing a state power commission, all under a title reading:

            "AN ACT relating to the conservation, development and utilization of the state's electrical resources and of facilities for the generation, transmission and distribution thereof; * * *"

            The court held that the subject of the act was, the state's electrical resources, and no portion of the act was unrelated to that subject and that the requirements of section 19, Article II were met.

            An excellent discussion of the requirements of section 19 of Article II appears in the case ofGruen v. State Tax Commission, 35 Wn. (2d) 1, 211 P. (2d) 651, which involved the World War II veterans' bonus law.  In that act the legislature combined authority to pay the bonus, an appropriation to pay it, authority to issue bonds, and an excise tax to repay them in one act.  The court held that since the legislature had adopted a broad title, all of these sub subjects were properly included under it in one comprehensive act.

            The court said:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            "Titles to statutes may be general or restrictive; or, in other words, broad or narrow,since the legislature in each case has the right to determine for itself how comprehensive shall be the object of the statute.  And it also has a wide discretion in the particularity of the title selected to express it, provided that, by a fair construction, such title complies with the constitutional provision in question.

            "A general title may be said to be one which is broad and comprehensive, and covers all legislation germane to the general subject stated.  It is not an objection that it covers more than the subject of the body of the act, but it must, not, in any event, cover less.  It is not necessary that it index the details of the act, or give a synopsis of the means by which the object of the statute is to be accomplished.  All matters which are germane to the subject may be embraced in one act.  Under the true rule of construction, the scope of the general title should be held to embrace any provision of the act, directly or indirectly related to the subject expressed in the title and having a natural connection thereto, and not foreign thereto.  Or, the rule may be stated as follows:  Where the title of a legislative act expresses a general subject or purpose which is single, all matters which are naturally and reasonably connected with it, andall measures which will, or may, facilitate the accomplishment of the purpose so stated, are properly included in the act and are germane to its title."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            A single piece of legislation under a broad general title may include various sub subjects.  Our Supreme Court in the early case of Marston v. Humes, 3 Wash. 267, 28 Pac. 520, had this to say concerning the interpretation that is to be given to the word "subject" as it is used in Article II, section 19 of the Constitution:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            "How shall this provision be interpreted?  What shall the word 'subject,' as used therein, be held to mean?  Courts are bound to give such an interpretation to this provision as will make it reasonable and at the same time give it full force.  There are two ways in which the words thus used can be interpreted.  One is to hold that the word 'subject' is not capable of further reduction; the other is to hold that it means a single subject in a more enlarged sense, in which may be included a large number of subjects.  To hold that the constitution makers intended the first interpretation would be to convict them of an intention to so tie the hands of the legislature as to make legislation extremely difficult, if not impossible; while the other construction will substantially subserve the object which they had in view and at the same time leave the legislature free to legislate in a reasonable manner.  I am of the opinion that the legislature must be the judge of the scope which they will give to the word 'subject,' and that so long as the title embraces but one subject it is not inimical to such constitutional provision, even although the subject as thus used contains any number of sub subjects.  As I have suggested, any other rule would make legislation practically impossible.  * * * In other words, the legislature may adopt just as comprehensive a title as it sees fit, and if such title when taken by itself relates to a unified subject or object, it is good, however much such unified subject is capable of division.  * * *"

            The case just cited is quoted with approval in Gruen v. State Tax Commission, 35 Wn. (2d) 1.

            The cases cited establish the principle that the legislature may adopt a subject as broad as it wishes and may include in a single piece of legislation all matters germane to that single broad subject.  Applying that rule then to Substitute House Bill No. 1, the broad subject is the support of the state  [[Orig. Op. Page 6]] government.  Sub subjects are appropriations for the support of the state government and a tax to finance the support of the state government.  It is our opinion that neither of these sub subjects is unrelated to the general subject of the bill, and it does not offend against section 19 of Article II of the Constitution.

Very truly yours,

SMITH TROY
Attorney General

LYLE L. IVERSON
Assistant Attorney General

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