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AGLO 1977 No. 26 - July 07, 1977
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

COLLEGES AND UNIVERSITIES ‑- SCHOOLS ‑- FEES ‑- VETERANS ‑- WAIVER OF TUITION FOR CHILDREN OF POWs or MIAs

(1) The provisions of RCW 28B.10.265 and RCW 28C.04.240, relating to the admission of children of POWs or MIAs to public institutions of higher education or public vocational-technical schools without the necessity of paying any registration fee or tuition, remain applicable to the children of persons determined to have been prisoners of war or missing in action in accordance with the terms of those statutes even after the subject parent or parents of those children have been released from POW status or otherwise have been recovered.

(2) A parent through whom a child's entitlement to benefits under RCW 28B.10.265 or RCW 28C.04.240 is claimed need not have been in active military service at the time he or she was determined by the federal government to be a prisoner of war or missing in action.

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

                                                                     July 7, 1977

Honorable Lewis Belcher, Jr.
Director, Department of Veterans' Affairs
P.O. Box 9778
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1977 No. 26

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have requested our opinion on two questions pertaining to RCW 28B.10.265 and RCW 28C.04.240.  We paraphrase your questions as follows:

            (1) Do the provisions of RCW 28B.10.265 and RCW 28C.04.240 remain applicable to the children of persons determined to have been prisoners of war or missing in action in accordance with the terms of those statutes even after the subject parent or parents of those children have been released from POW status or otherwise have been recovered?

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            (2) Must a parent through whom a child's entitlement to benefits under RCW 28B.10.265 or RCW 28C.04.240 is claimed have been in active military service at the time he or she was determined by the federal government to be a prisoner of war or missing in action?

            We answer question (1) in the affirmative and question (2) in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 28B.10.265 reads, in pertinent part, as follows:

            "Children of any person who was a Washington domiciliary and who within the past eleven years has been determined by the federal government to be a prisoner of war or missing in action in Southeast Asia, including Korea, or who shall become so hereafter, shall be admitted to and attend any public institution of higher education within the state without the necessity of paying any tuition, operating fees, and service and activities' fees for any and all courses offered at any time including summer term whether attending on a part time or full time basis: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Similarly, RCW 28C.04.240 provides that:

            "Children of any person who was a Washington domiciliary and who within the past eleven years has been determined by the federal government to be a prisoner of war or missing in action in Southeast Asia, including Korea, or who shall become so hereafter, shall be admitted to any public vocational-technical school within the state without the necessity of paying any registration fees or tuition therefor: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            Question (1):

            Two general rules of statutory construction support the conclusion that children of persons who have been determined to be prisoners of war or missing in action remain  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] eligible for benefits under the above statutes even after the parent or parents of those children are no longer prisoners of war or missing in action.

            First, statutes must be construed according to their plain language if they contain no ambiguity.  SeeSnow's Mobile Homes, Inc. v. Morgan, 80 Wn.2d 283, 494 P.2d 216 (1972).  The pertinent language regarding eligibility in both RCW 28B.10.265 and RCW 28C.04.240 is:

            "Children of any personwho. . . has been determined by the federal government to be a prisoner of war or missing in action . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            The operative fact controlling eligibility in both statutes is the determination made by the federal government.  Both statutes unambiguously confer certain benefits on children once a determination concerning their parents has been made; moreover, neither statute contains language that would withdraw benefits depending on facts occurring subsequent to the initial determination.  Thus, by the plain language used in both statutes, the legislature chose not to limit eligibility to a period of time coinciding with the time that a parent was actually a prisoner of war or missing in action.  If the legislature had intended to limit the eligibility in such a manner, it could have simply stated that children of any person who is a prisoner of war or missing in action as determined by the federal government would be entitled to the benefits set forth in RCW 28B.10.265 and RCW 28C.04.240.

            Secondly, even if those statutes are deemed to be ambiguous, the legislative history of RCW 28B.10.265 and RCW 28C.04.240 also indicates that children were intended by the legislature to remain eligible even after the parent or parents of those children are no longer prisoners of war or missing in action.  Both statutes were enacted by chapter 17, Laws of 1972, 1st Ex. Sess.  Immediately prior to final passage of that measure in the House of Representatives, the following point of inquiry was made by Representative Douthwaite to then Representative Benitz who was vice chairman of the committee which reported the bill:

            "Mr. Douthwaite:  'I have no objection to this bill certainly, and I think it is a kind and decent thing to do.  However I would call your  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] attention to the fact that I think the wording is a bit loose in the respect that children of men who are missing in action or prisoners of war are to receive free tuition, except there is no specification given about the length of time of this free tuition.  In the event their father comes on active duty‑-hopefully some of them who are not missing in action or prisoners of war will‑-in the event their status is changed in this positive sense would you give me your impression please, Mr. Benitz, on:  Does this then involve a termination of the free tuition or does that make any difference?'

            "Mr. Benitz:  'It is my opinion it would not make any difference.'"  Journal of the House, 1972 1st Ex. Sess. pp. 743, 744.

            Statements made on the floor by the chairman of the committee in charge of the bill can be used to help determine legislative intent in the case of an ambiguous statute.  Snow's Mobil Homes, Inc., supra.  The statement of Representative Benitz indicates that the intent of this bill was to provide free tuition to children of parents who were prisoners of war or missing in action even after those parents had been released from prisoner of war status or otherwise recovered.

            Question (2):

            Your second question asks whether a person must have been in active military service at the time he or she was determined by the federal government to be a prisoner of war or missing in action in order for that person's child to be eligible under RCW 28B.10.265 or RCW 28C.04.240.  We answer that question in the negative because it is our opinion that neither RCW 28B.10.265 or RCW 28C.04.240 makes active military service a condition of eligibility.  As we explained in our answer to your first question, the operative fact governing eligibility is the determination by the federal government that "any person" is (or was) a prisoner of war or missing in action.  Thus, if the federal government determines that a person who was not in active military service was nevertheless a prisoner of war or missing in action then that person's children would be eligible for benefits under both RCW 28B.10.265 and RCW 28C.04.240.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            This conclusion is in accord with the rule requiring that a statute that contains no ambiguity is to be administered according to its plain language.  Snow's Mobile Homes Inc.,supra.

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

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


PETER SCOTT
Assistant Attorney General

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