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AGLO 1973 No. 44 - April 04, 1973
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Slade Gorton | 1969-1980 | Attorney General of Washington

VETERANS ‑- MILITARY ‑- MAINTENANCE OF WASHINGTON STATE SOLDIER'S HOME

Article X, § 3 of the Washington State Constitution requires the legislature to provide for the maintenance of a "soldier's home" only for disabled veterans of the Civil War who fought on the Union side and for members of the state militia disabled while in line of duty and who are bona fide residents of the state.

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                                                                    April 4, 1973

Honorable Wayne Ehlers
State Representative, 2nd District
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1973 No. 44

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have asked for an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Does Article X, § 3 of the Washington State Constitution presently require the legislature to provide by law for the maintenance of a "soldier's home"?

            We answer this question in the manner set forth herein.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            As part of the original Constitution of this state, the framers provided in Article X, § 3 that:

            "The legislature shall provide by law for the maintenance of a soldiers' home for honorably discharged Union soldiers, sailors, marines and members of the state militia disabled while in the line of duty and who are bonafide citizens of the state."

            Pursuant to this constitutional mandate, the first legislature, by chapter VIII, (p. 270) Laws of 1890, provided for the establishment of such a home.  By § 2 of this act it stated that:

            "All honorably discharged Union soldiers, sailors, marines, and also members of the state militia disabled while in the line of duty, may be admitted to the home provided for in section one hereof, under such rules and regulations as may be adopted by the board of trustees hereinafter provided for:  Provided, Such applicants arebonafide citizens of this state."

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Eleven years later, by chapter 167, Laws of 1901, admission to this home was extended by statute to bona fide Washington residents who were ". . . soldiers of the Spanish-American war, . . ." and then by chapter 124, Laws of 1911, it was further extended to

            ". . .  All honorably discharged Union soldiers, Mexican war veterans, veterans of Washington Indian wars, sailors, marines, soldiers of the Spanish-American war, and also members of the state militia . . ."

            Finally, by chapter 106, Laws of 1915, the legislature amended the language of this statute to that of its present form (codified as RCW 72.36.030) as follows:

            "All honorably discharged soldiers, sailors and marines who have served the United States government in any of its wars, and members of the state militia disabled while in the line of duty, may be admitted to the state soldiers' home at Orting under such rules and regulations as may be adopted by the department:  Provided, That such applicants have been actual bona fide citizens of this state for a period of three years at the time of their application, and are indigent and unable to support themselves."

            Before proceeding, we wish to make it clear that regardless of Article X, § 3, supra, and subject to other constitutional limits upon its powers, the legislature is perfectly free to provide for the maintenance of institutions for any or all of the several classes of veterans currently described in this statute.  Your question, however, is whether Article X, § 3, supra, amounts to a present constitutional mandate to the legislature to maintain such a home.

            In our opinion, the constitutional mandate of this section must be regarded as being limited only to those two categories of individuals specifically referred to therein; i.e., ". . .  Union soldiers, sailors, marines and members of the state militia . . ." who have been disabled in the line of duty and who are bona fide Washington residents.  To the extent that persons are still alive who fall within either of these classes a "soldiers' home" must be maintained under the Constitution ‑ but as for all  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] other veterans to whom RCW 72.36.030,supra, addresses itself, the continued maintenance of such a home is solely up to the legislature.

            Lest there be any misunderstanding as to the scope of this conclusion, let us clarify, first, the meaning of the term "Union soldiers, sailors [and] marines."  It will readily be noted that the legislature by its amendatory enactments of 1901 and 1911,supra, deemed it appropriate to change the language of the implementing 1890 statute to accommodate veterans of certain specified wars other than the American Civil War of 1861-65.  This fact strongly suggests to us that the legislature did not then deem the constitutional and original statutory phrase "Union soldiers" to be broad enough to encompass veterans of these other wars.  The fact that these early legislators, some of whom, at least, must have been contemporaries of the framers of the Constitution, viewed this term as being too narrow to encompass United States military veterans of other wars, indicates to us a contemporaneous understanding that the term "Union" had reference only to veterans of the Civil War who fought on the Union side.  And it is, of course, a well-known rule of statutory and constitutional construction that where the meaning of a provision is doubtful, resort to contemporaneous construction is proper.  State ex rel. Evans v. Brotherhood Etc., 41 Wn.2d 133, 247 P.2d 787 (1952).  Accord, too, the case ofKeely v. Supervisors, 158 Iowa 205, 139 N.W. 473 (1913), where, in construing a statutory reference to "Union soldiers," it is said at 474:

            "Taking up the grounds in the reverse order, it is to be said that what was intended by the statute is perfectly manifest.  The soldiers, sailors, and marines who fought in the Civil War of 1860-65 are now referred to, and since that conflict terminated have been referred to as Union soldiers, sailors, or marines, and Confederate soldiers, sailors and marines; the former having fought to preserve the Union of the states and the latter for the establishment of the so-called confederacy. . . ."

            In thus disposing of the subject constitutional mandate insofar as it pertains to this first class of veteran we are fully aware that, in fact, no such persons are still alive in this state.  Accordingly, our conclusion on this point must be seen as rendering the mandate wholly obsolete as to this class.  With this in mind we turn, next,  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] to the other class of persons referred to in the Constitution; i.e., "members of the state militia disabled while in the line of duty."  Unlike the first class to which Article X, § 3, addresses itself, this class is not modified by the term "Union" and hence, in our opinion, this aspect of the constitutional mandate must be said still to have some present day viability.  Although we have not attempted to ascertain the number of state militia men who have been disabled in the line of duty and who thus would now be in a position to claim a constitutional right of admission to such a soldier's home, we are, nevertheless, inclined to the view that Article X, § 3, supra, applies to any such individuals with the same force today as it did at the time of its adoption.  See, RCW 38.04.030, et seq., with respect to the present composition of this body of state citizens.  Accordingly, to the extent that any of the persons described in the foregoing statutes are called to duty thereunder and are then disabled in the line of such duty, a constitutional right would still appear to run in their favor which would require some provision by the legislature for maintenance of a soldier's home for their benefit.

            This concludes our response to the questions which you have asked, we trust that we have been of some assistance.

Very truly yours,

SLADE GORTON
Attorney General


THOMAS F. CARR
Assistant Attorney General

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