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AGLO 1977 No. 43 - October 19, 1977
AGO Opinion Header Image
Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- SUPERINTENDENT OF WASHINGTON SOLDIERS' HOME ‑- VETERANS ‑- DISBURSEMENTS FROM SOLDIERS' HOME REVOLVING FUND

(1) The Superintendent of the Washington Soldiers' Home is not required by the provisions of § 7, chapter 186, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess., to grant authorization for all disbursements from the soldiers' home revolving fund which have been approved by the duly constituted body representative of the members.

(2) While the Superintendent of the Washington Soldiers' Home is empowered to refuse authorization for a particular disbursement from the soldiers' home revolving fund which has been approved by the duly constituted body representative of the members, the superintendent is not authorized to direct an alternative disbursement scheme or plan to be implemented in its place.

                                                                  - - - - - - - - - - - - -

                                                                October 19, 1977

Honorable Lewis Belcher, Jr.
Director, Department of Veterans Affairs
P.O. Box 9778
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1977 No. 43

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion on a question which we divide and paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Is the superintendent of the Washington Soldiers' Home required by the provisions of § 7, chapter 186, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess. (Substitute House Bill 125) to grant authorization for all disbursements from the soldiers' home revolving fund which have been approved by the duly constituted body representative of the members?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) If question (1) is answered in the negative, is the superintendent not only empowered to refuse authorization for a particular disbursement but to direct an alternative disbursement scheme or plan to be implemented in its place?

            We answer both parts of your question in the negative for the reasons stated below.1/

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Section 7, chapter 186, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess. reads, in full, as follows:

            "There is added to chapter 28, Laws of 1959 and to chapter 72.36 RCW a new section to read as follows:

            "All income of members of the soldiers' home in excess of allowable income shall be deposited in the soldiers' home revolving fund as established in section 55, chapter 269, Laws of 1975 1st ex. sess. (uncodified, and herein continued and reenacted).

            "(1) Allowable income shall be defined by the rules and regulations adopted by the department:  PROVIDED, That the allowable income of members accepted for membership shall not be decreased below one hundered sixty dollars per month during periods that such members are resident thereat.

            "(2) Disbursements from the soldiers' home revolving fund shall be for the benefit and welfare of all members of the soldiers' home  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] and such disbursements shall be on the authorization of the superintendent of his authorized representative after approval has been received from a duly constituted body representative of the members.

            "(3) In order to maintain an effective expenditure and revenue control, the soldiers' home revolving fund shall be subject in all respects to chapter 43.88 RCW, but no appropriation shall be required to permit expenditures from such funds."2/   (Emphasis supplied)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            Question (1):

            First you have asked:

            "Is the superintendent of the Washington Soldiers' Home required by the provisions of § 7, chapter 186, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess. (Substitute House Bill 125) to grant authorization for all disbursements from the soldiers' home revolving fund which have been approved by the duly constituted body representative of the members?"  (Emphasis supplied)

            We answer this question in the negative for several reasons.  To begin with, it is a basic rule of statutory construction that legislative intent is to be deduced, if possible, from what the legislature has said.  Lynch v. State, 19 Wn.2d 802, 145 P.2d 265 (1944).  Words in a statute should be given their ordinary meaning in the absence of a special statutory definition.  Garrison v. Washington State Nursing Board, 87 Wn.2d 195, 550 P.2d 7 (1976).  And, while it is permissible to resort to legislative history in determining the meaning of an ambiguous statute,Shelton Hotel Co. v. Bates, 4 Wn.2d 498, 104 P.2d 478 (1940), resort may not thus be made to mere statements or opinions of individual legislators expressed after passage of the law in question.  Snow's Mobile Home, Inc. v. Morgan, 80 Wn.2d 283, 494 P.2d 216 (1972).

            Here, there is no definition of either "approval" or "authorization" in chapter 186,supra, or in any other law to which we may properly look in this case.  Thus, we may properly look to the common dictionary definitions of those words and when we do we find, first, that Webster's New World Dictionary of the American Language, 2nd College Edition, 1972 (The World Publishing Company:  New York and Cleveland) defines "to authorize" as follows:

            "(1) to give official approval to or permission for . . .

            "(2) to give power or authority to; empower; commission.

            "(3) To give justification for; warrant . . ."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            The same dictionary then defines "to approve" as follows:

            "(1) to give one's consent to; sanction; confirm.

            "(2) to be favorable toward; think or declare to be good, satisfactory, etc. . . ."

            While these definitions do not shed a great deal of light on our problem they do at least suggest that the superintendent has the power to withhold his authorization for, insofar as "authorization" connotes consent, it surely also connotes the power to withhold consent.  To interpret "authorization" otherwise would render the term meaningless.

            We turn next to the use of the word "shall" in the following portion of § 7 of chapter 186, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess., supra:

            ". . . and such disbursements shall be on the authorization of the superintendent. . . ."

            We find the meaning of this language to be merely that all disbursements shall be on the authority of the superintendent and not, conversely, that the superintendent shall authorize all disbursements.

            An additional basis for our negative answer to your first question is provided by the rule that, in construing a statute, the entire sequence of all statutes relating to the same subject matter should be considered.  Goodman v. Bethel School Dist. No. 403, 84 Wn.2d 120, 524 P.2d 918 (1974).  Where two legislative enactments relate to the same subject matter and are not actually in conflict, they should be interpreted to give meaning and effect to both.  Davis v. King County, 77 Wn.2d 930 468 P.2d 679 (1970).  But here, to construe the superintendent's "authorization" under chapter 186, supra, as a purely ministerial act would be inconsistent with the broad powers otherwise vested by law in the superintendent as well as the Director of the Department of Veterans Affairs to manage and control the Washington Soldiers' Home.  See, in particular, RCW 43.60A.040 and §§ 2 and 5 of Chapter 31, Laws of 1977.  RCW 43.60A.040 provides that:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            "The director of the department of veterans affairs shall have the power and it shall be the director's duty:

            "(1) To conduct, control and supervise the department;

            "(2) To appoint and employ and to determine the powers and duties together with the salaries and other expenses of such clerical and other personnel, subject to the provisions of chapter 41.06 RCW, as are necessary to carry out the duties of the department; and

            "(3) To perform all other matters and things, whether similar to the foregoing or not, to carry out the provisions of this chapter."

            Section 5, chapter 31,supra, then adds the following new section to chapter 43.60A RCW:

            "The director of the department of veterans affairs shall have full power to manage and govern the state soldiers' home and colony and the Washington veterans' home."

            And finally, § 2 of chapter 31, supra, amends RCW 72.36.020 to read as follows:

            "The director of the department of veterans affairs shall appoint a superintendent for the state soldiers' home and colony, and a superintendent for the Washington veterans' home, who, with the consent of the director, may be styled, respectively, 'commandant of the home'.  The superintendent shall exercise management and control of the institution in accordance with policies and/or procedures promulgated by the director of the department of veterans affairs and rules and regulations of the department."

            Thirdly, if and to the extent that § 7 of chapter 186, supra, should be deemed to be ambiguous our negative response to your first question is further supported by the rule of construction that ambiguous statutes must be interpreted in a reasonable manner and that the courts should strive to seek out the intent of the legislative body.  Odessa Trading Company v. Federal Crop Insurance Corp., 6 Wn.App. 423, 493 P.2d 809 (1972).  It seems to us most reasonable to interpret the disputed  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] language in § 7, supra, as vesting the superintendent with a power to refuse authorization as well as to grant it.  For one thing, the statute itself requires that disbursements shall "be for the benefit and welfare of all members of the soldiers' home. . . ."  Accordingly, a refusal of authorization would be a reasonable exercise of the superintendent's powers where a proposed disbursement, for example, was not for the benefit and welfare ofall members of the home or where it otherwise might violate statutory or regulatory requirements.

            Question (2):

            Having thus answered your first question in the negative, however, we likewise answer your second question in the same manner.  The mere fact that the superintendent is empowered to refuse authorization for a particular disbursement from the soldiers' home revolving fund does not mean the superintendent, in refusing, may legally direct an alternative disbursement scheme or plan to be implemented in its place.

            Although the ordinary meaning of the statutory language is not in itself sufficient to answer this question it is, at any rate, clear that "approval" connotes at least as much discretionary power to grant or withhold consent as does "authorization."  Further, it should be remembered that the law under consideration directs that the superintendent shall not authorize any disbursements until the representative body has first approved such disbursement.  The priority in time given by the statute to the representative body suggests that it is the representative body and not the superintendent that poses the power ofinitiating proposed expenditures.

            As indicated by our answer to question (1), the superintendent may refuse authorization of a disbursement approved by the representative body.  And, in so doing, the superintendent not only can but probably should give reasons for his refusal so that the proponents of the disbursement may restructure it in an appropriate manner.  But in our judgment the superintendent may not, either in refusing authorization or otherwise, affirmatively direct an alternative disbursement scheme or plan to be implemented instead.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 8]]

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

JAMES A. HUMPHREY
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/While this opinion construes § 7 of chapter 186, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess. and while § 7 pertains only to the Washington Soldiers' Home at Orting, the conclusions expressed herein by analogy apply equally to the identical language in § 8 of the same law which concerns the Washington Veterans' Home at Retsil.

2/Section 55, chapter 269, Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess. to which reference is made in the first paragraph of this 1977 enactment, initially created and defined the soldiers' home revolving fund as a part of the 1975-77 biennial appropriations act and, as will be noted, contained identical language to that in § 7, supra, which we have above underscored; i.e.,

            ". . .

            "All income of members of the Soldiers' Home in excess of allowable income shall be deposited in the Soldiers' Home Revolving Fund which is hereby created.  Disbursements from the revolving fund shall be for the welfare and benefit of all members of the Soldiers' Home and such disbursements shall be on authorization of the superintendent of the home or his duly authorized representative after approval has been received from a duly constituted body representative of the members.  In order to maintain an effective expenditure and revenue control the Soldiers' Home Revolving Fund shall be subject in all respects to chapter 43.88 RCW but no appropriation shall be required to permit expenditures from such fund.

            ". . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

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