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AGLO 1978 No. 20 - June 22, 1978
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- SHERIFF ‑- POLITICAL ACTIVITIES OF DEPUTY SHERIFFS

Neither the fact that RCW 41.14.190 is a special statute relating only to deputy county sheriffs and related personnel nor the further fact that this law was originally adopted as part of an initiative to the people is sufficient to cause the statute (prohibiting political activities by deputy sheriffs) to remain fully enforceable and unaffected by the later enactment of § 1, chapter 136, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex.Sess., whereby the legislature granted the right to participate in designated political activities to all state and local governmental employees.

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                                                                   June 22, 1978

Honorable Jeremy Randolph
Prosecuting Attorney
Lewis County
P.O. Box 918
Chehalis, Washington 98532                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1978 No. 20

Dear Sir:

            This is written in response to your recent letter requesting our opinion on the following two questions relating to the lawfulness of certain political activities by deputy county sheriffs:

            "1. Would the fact that the regulation of political activities by RCW 41.14.190 is a special statute, for a special purpose, render the operation of RCW 41.06.250 any less drastic as to the political activities of civil service deputy sheriffs?

            "2. Would the fact that RCW 41.14.190 was enacted as Initiative 23 by vote of the people rather than legislative enactment have any bearing upon the effect of RCW 41.06.250 upon RCW 41.14.190?"

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]   We answer both questions in the negative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The first statute to be noted in conjunction with your request is RCW 41.14.190, which is a part of the law governing civil service for deputy sheriffs and reads as follows:

            "No person holding any office, place, position, or employment subject to civil service, shall contribute to any political fund or render any political service to any person or party whatsoever, and no person shall be removed, reduced in grade or salary, or otherwise prejudiced for refusing so to do.  No public officer, whether elected or appointed, shall discharge, promote, demote, or in any manner change the official rank, employment, or compensation of any person under civil service or promise or threaten so to do for giving or withholding, or neglecting to make any contribution of money, or service, or any other valuable thing, for any political purpose."

            This statute, like most of the remainder of chapter 41.14 RCW, was enacted by the people through the initiative process under Article II, § 1 (Amendment 7) of our state constitution.  See, specifically, Initiative No. 23 which was approved by the voters in November of 1958.

            The other statute which is involved in your opinion request is RCW 41.06.250.  This statute, likewise, originated as part of an initiative establishing a civil service system‑-this time for state employees.  We have reference to Initiative No. 207 which was approved by the voters in November of 1960.  As we earlier explained in AGO 1975 No. 22 [[to Reuben A. Knoblauch, State Senator on October 28, 1975]] (copy enclosed), however, this particular section of the state civil service law was later amended by the 1974 legislature (see, § 1, chapter 136, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex.Sess.) to extend its application to local governmental personnel as well.1/   Here set forth in bill form for ease of understanding, the pertinent portions of this 1974 amended version of the law read as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            ". . .

            "(2) Employeesof the state or any political subdivision thereof shall have the right to vote and to express their opinions on all political subjects and candidates((, but shall not)) and to hold any political party office or participate in the management of a partisan, political campaign.  Nothing in this section shall prohibit ((a classified)) an employee of the state or any political subdivision thereof from participating fully in campaigns relating to constitutional amendments, referendums, initiatives, and issues of a similar character, and for nonpartisan offices.

            ". . .

            "(5) The provisions of this section shall supersede all statutes, charter provisions, ordinances, resolutions, regulations, and requirements promulgated by the state or any subdivision thereof, including any provision of any county charter, insofar as they may be in conflict with the provisions of this section."

            In our opinion both of your questions must be answered in the negative.  To begin with, the so-called "special" v. "general" statute dichotomy alluded to in your first question is simply a rule of statutory construction to be applied in the absence of an express statement of legislative intent regarding the proper relationship between two conflicting statutes.  In this case, however, as evidenced by § (5) of RCW 41.06.250, supra, as amended, the legislature clearly and unequivocally expressed its intent to have the provisions of that statute, as amended,

            ". . . supersedeall statutes, charter provisions, ordinances, resolutions, regulations, and requirements promulgated by the state or any subdivision thereof, including any provision of any county charter, insofar as they may be in conflict with the provisions of this section."  (Emphasis supplied)2/

            [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]     As for your second question, we can conceive of no legal basis for concluding that RCW 41.14.190 does not come within the ambit of this last quoted portion of RCW 41.06.250, as amended, simply because RCW 41.14.190 originated as an initiative.  In our state the initiative process is only available to enact such statutes as may be enacted by the legislature itself‑-as opposed, for example, to the passage of an amendment to the state constitution.  Accordingly, once enacted, an initiative is simply another statute, differing from a law passed by the legislature only from the standpoint of the lawmaking process involved in its enactment.3/   Therefore, in our judgment, the fact that RCW 41.14.190 was enacted as a part of Initiative No. 23 in 1958 has no bearing upon the current legal relationship between it and RCW 41.06.250 as amended by the 1974 legislature.

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

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Including, in our opinion, deputy county sheriffs‑-for we would read the term "employees" in the statute as encompassing all ". . . deputies and other necessary employees. . ." who, in the words of RCW 36.16.070, may be employed by the various county elected officials "In all cases where the duties of any county office are greater than can be performed by the person elected to fill it, . . ."

2/For a prior opinion analyzing the effect of this subsection on a conflicting home rule county charter provision, see AGLO 1976 No. 4 [[to Lois North, State Senator on January 9, 1976, an Informal Opinion, AIR-76504]], copy enclosed.

3/In so concluding, we have not overlooked the fact that an initiative, once enacted, may not be repealed by the legislature for a two-year period‑-nor amended during that period except by a two-thirds majority of both houses of the legislature.  Even during that limited period, however, the initiative is simply an ordinary law insofar as its substantive legal effect is concerned.

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