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AGLO 1973 No. 24 - February 14, 1973
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

PENSIONS ‑- LEFF ‑- IMPACT OF HB 543 ON MEMBERSHIP

Impact of House Bill No. 543 on LEFF membership under merged police and fire department.

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                                                                February 14, 1973

Honorable Kemper Freeman, Jr.
State Representative, 48th District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1973 No. 24

Dear Sir:

            By recent letter you have asked for our opinion on two questions involving a proposed amendment to RCW 41.26.030 which is contained in House Bill No. 543.  Your questions are as follows:

            "1) Does the proposed change of wording expand the categories of employees who would be covered by Law Enforcement & Fire Fighters Retirement System?

            "2) If the law is not amended, are there any employees in any local agency who will lose their LEFF coverage?"

            We respond to these questions in the manner set forth in the following analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            RCW 41.26.030 is the definition section of the RCW chapter relating to the Washington law enforcement officers' and fire fighters' retirement system.  House Bill No. 543 proposes to amend the definition of "law enforcement officer" as set forth in subsection (3) of this statute so as to cause this term to mean:

            ". . . any person who is serving on a full time, fully compensated basis as a county sheriff or deputy sheriff, including sheriffs or deputy sheriffs serving under a different title pursuant to a county charter, city police officer, or town marshal or deputy marshal:  PROVIDED, That the term 'city police officer' shall only include such regular, full time personnel of a city ((police)) department  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] which provides police services, as have been appointed to offices, positions or ranks in the department which have been specifically created or otherwise expressly provided for and designated by city charter provision or by ordinance enacted by the legislative body of the city:  PROVIDED FURTHER, That the term 'law enforcement officer' also includes the executive secretary of a labor guild, association or organization (which is an employer under RCW 41.26.030 (2) as now or hereafter amended) if such individual has five years previous membership in the retirement system established in chapter 41.20 RCW."

            We understand that this proposal is currently being considered by the legislature as a consequence of our informal opinion of November 13, 1972, to former State Senator James A. Andersen, copy enclosed.  In this opinion we were concerned with the status of persons employed in a merged city police and fire department, insofar as membership in the LEFF retirement system is concerned.  On the basis of both the existing definition of "law enforcement officer," as set forth in RCW 41.26.030 (3), supra, and the comparable definition of "fire fighter" in subsection (4), we responded to Senator Andersen's question by first indicating that both of these definitions appear to contemplate the maintenance of two separate and distinctive departments within the municipal government of a city providing law enforcement and fire fighting services.  Because of this, we then went on to say:

            "While itmight be possible, by careful draftsmanship, to enact a city ordinance or charter provision establishing a merged single department which wouldnot so obliterate the identity of the city's former separate police and fire departments as to disqualify the employees thereof from continuing membership in the LEFF retirement system, it is our judgment that under the present definitions of 'law enforcement officer' and 'fire fighter,'supra, there would, at least, be a legal cloud over the situation without the enactment of an enabling amendment to the LEFF act.  Although such legislation could, perhaps, take other forms, it seems to us that the most logical approach would be to redefine the terms 'law enforcement officer' and 'fire fighter' so as to  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] cause those definitions to read as set forth in a bill which we have drafted for your consideration and are enclosing herewith.  Accordingly, we would strongly urge that if, in your capacity as a member of the state senate, you deem it desirable that employees of a merged city police and fire department be allowed to continue participation in the LEFF retirement system, you work toward the passage of a bill such as this at the forthcoming 1973 legislative session."

            House Bill No. 543, which you have sent to us along with your request, is, in form, the same bill which we drafted for Senator Andersen.  In our opinion this bill would not "broaden" the categories of employees who would be eligible to participate in the LEFF retirement system; instead, it would simply enable the same classes of police and fire personnel to participate in this retirement system under a merged department as would be eligible to participate as law enforcement officers or fire fighters serving separate municipal departments providing these services.

            As for your second question, we are not presently aware of any instances in which LEFF coverage for any employees of a local governmental agency would belost at this time if House Bill No. 543 is not enacted.  In saying this, we take particular cognizance that the situation in the city of Bellevue which, as we understand it, gave rise to Senator Andersen's original request, has since been satisfactorily resolved within the confines of the existing statute.

            On the other hand, enactment by the legislature of an amendment such as is contained in House Bill No. 543 would make it possible for a city such as Bellevue to move toward full consolidation of its police and fire departments, as originally planned by that city, without jeopardizing the eligibility of its police and fire personnel for continuing LEFF coverage.

            It is hoped that the foregoing response to your questions will be of some assistance to you at this time.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Deputy Attorney General

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