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AGLO 1974 No. 20 - February 07, 1974
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

INDIANS ‑- PENSIONS ‑- FIREMEN'S RELIEF AND PENSION ACT ‑- ELIGIBILITY OF INDIAN TRIBES FOR PENSION COVERAGE

The members of a volunteer fire department organized and operated by the Spokane Indian tribe are not eligible for pension coverage under the volunteer firemen's relief and pension act, chapter 41.24 RCW.

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                                                                 February 7, 1974

Honorable Daniel J. Evans
Governor, State of Washington
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1974 No. 20

Attention:  William R. Jeffries
            Special Assistant for Indian Affairs

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have asked for our opinion as to whether the members of a volunteer fire department organized and operated by the Spokane Indian tribe are eligible for pension coverage under the Volunteer Firemen's Relief and Pension Act, chapter 41.24 RCW.

            For the reasons set forth below, we believe that this question must be answered in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            In order for the members of a volunteer fire department to be covered by the provisions of chapter 41.24 RCW, the fire department must be one which is maintained by a "municipal corporation" or "municipality," as defined, in RCW 41.24.010.  See RCW 41.24.020.  As thus defined, those terms both mean:

            ". . . any city or town, fire protection district, or any water, irrigation, or other district, authorized by law to afford protection to life and property within its boundaries from fire."

            Although it is readily to be acknowledged that a federally recognized Indian tribe such as the Spokane tribe is a governmental entity, it is simply not among the types  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] of governmental entities there listed.  Accord, AGLO 1974 No. 17 [[to Jack G. Nelson, Director, Department of Motor Vehicles on February 4, 1974 an Informal Opinion AIR-74517]], copy enclosed, in which we recently advised, on similar reasoning, that the Quinault tribe, although also a governmental body, is not a political subdivision of the state for the purposes of an exemption from the payment of motor vehicle license fees under RCW 46.16.020.

            If the legislature desires by an appropriate amendment to RCW 41.24.010,supra, to extend coverage under the Volunteer Firemen's Relief and Pension system to the members of an Indian tribal fire department, it in all probability would be constitutional for it to do so.  Compare, RCW 43.31A.070, in which the legislature by express reference included Indian tribes along with political subdivisions for the purposes of eligibility for financial aid under the Economic Assistance Act of 1972, as follows:

            "The authority is authorized to make direct grants and/or loans to political subdivisions of the stateand Indian tribes recognized as such by the federal government, for the purpose of assisting such organizations in financing the cost of public facilities, including the cost of acquisition and development of land and improvements for public facilities, as well as the acquisition, construction, rehabilitation, alteration, expansion, or improvement of such facilities."  (Emphasis Supplied.)

            Until and unless this is done, however, your present question must, in our opinion, be answered in the negative.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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