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AGO 1961 No. 39 - June 21, 1961
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- COUNTY ‑- COMMISSIONERS ‑- ORDINANCE ‑- AUTHORITY TO CONTROL INSTALLATION OF ELECTRICAL WIRES, ETC

Under the provisions of chapter 27, Laws of 1961, boards of county commissioners may adopt such provisions of chapter 19.28 RCW as are necessary for the regulation and control of the installation of electrical wires, equipment, apparatus or appliances, including any rules or regulations relating to such installation as are presently promulgated by the department of labor and industries.

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                                                                   June 21, 1961

Honorable Herbert H. Freise
State Senator, 11th District
200 Jones Building
Walla Walla, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 39

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you requested an opinion of this office on a question which we paraphrase as follows:

            Does a county have the authority to enact an ordinance regulating or otherwise controlling the installation of electrical wires, equipment, apparatus or appliances in view of the provisions of chapter 19.28 RCW?

            We answer this question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            It is elementary that counties have only such powers as are conferred upon them by legislative enactment.  State ex rel. King County v. Superior Court, 33 Wn. (2d) 76, 204 P. (2d) 514 (1949).  The powers of a county can be exercised only by its county commissioners, or by agents or officers acting under their authority or under authority of law.  State ex rel. Taylor v. Superior Court, 2 Wn. (2d) 575, 98 P. (2d) 985 (1940).  Boards of county commissioners are creatures of statute and have only such powers as are expressly conferred upon them or necessarily implied from those expressly given or such as are requisite to the performance of the duties which are  [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] imposed upon them by law.  State ex rel. Becker v. Wiley, 16 Wn. (2d) 340, 133 P. (2d) 507 (1943).

            With the above rules in mind it becomes necessary to determine whether our legislature has granted to the various counties the power to regulate or control the installation of electrical wires, equipment, apparatus or appliances.  Since your question refers to chapter 19.28 RCW, we first direct your attention to its provisions.

            Chapter 19.28 RCW is a comprehensive code regulating and controlling the installation of electrical wires and equipment.  RCW 19.28.010 provides, in part, as follows:

            "From and after the taking effect of this chapter all wires and equipment, and installation thereof, to convey electric current and installations of apparatus to be operated by said current, in, on, or about buildings or structures, for telephone and telegraph wires and equipment, and except further for signalling wires which signalling wires operate at fifty volts or less or utilize fifty watts or less,shall be in strict conformity with the provisions of this chapter, the statutes of the state of Washington, the rules and regulations issued by the department of labor and industries under the authority of the state statutes, and shall be in conformity with the most approved methods of construction for safety to life and property. . . .  Provided, That this chapter shall not limit the authority of power of anycity or town to enact and enforce under power and authority given by law, any ordinance, rule or regulation requiring a higher and better standard of construction and/or a higher or better standard of materials, devices, appliances and equipment than that required by this chapter, but in suchcity or town having such higher and/or better standard such installations and materials, devices, appliances and equipment shall be in accordance with the ordinance, rule, or regulation of such city or town: . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            From the above language it is clear that the state was to have sole jurisdiction in the control and regulation of the installation of electrical wires and equipment, with the exception that any city or town could enact an ordinance, rule, or regulation setting a higher or better standard than that required by the code.  The reference to "city or town" implies by omission the exclusion of any other  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] governmental entity, including a county, under the familiar rule of statutory construction that the express mention of one thing will be taken to imply the exclusion of another thing, expressio unius est exclusio alterius.  Bradley v. Dept. Labor & Ind., 52 Wn. (2d) 780, 784, 329 P. (2d) 196 (1958).

            That a county was not to regulate in this area is fortified by the language of RCW 19.28.070.  The pertinent language provides:

            "The director of labor and industries of the state of Washington and the officials of all incorporated cities and towns where electrical inspections are required by local ordinances shall have power and it shall be their duty to enforce the provisions of this chapterin their respective jurisdictions. . . .  The director of labor and industries shall have power to designate and appoint for temporary duty any electrical inspector of any municipality who possesses the qualifications required by this chapter for inspectors, as a deputy state electrical inspector.  Inspectors, when so deputized, shall whenever possible make such inspections as the director of labor and industries may request outside the incorporated limits of their respective cities or towns. . . ." (Emphasis supplied.)

            In view of the foregoing we conclude that at least prior to June 8, 1961, a county had no power to regulate or control the installation of electrical wires and equipment.

            Speaking prospectively, however, we find it necessary to make reference to a law passed at the recently concluded 1961 legislative session.  Chapter 27, Laws of 1961, effective June 8, 1961, amends RCW 36.32.120, which relates to the powers of the several boards of county commissioners.  The language pertinent to our discussion provides:

            "Sec. 2. (36.32.120) The several boards of county commissioners shall:

            ". . .

            "(7) Make and enforce, by appropriate resolutions or ordinances, all such police and sanitary regulations as are not in conflict with state law,and  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] within the unincorporated area of the county may adopt by reference Washington State statutes and recognized codes and/or compilations printed in book form relating to the construction of buildings, the installation of plumbing, the installation of electric wiring, health, or other subjects, and may adopt such codes and/or compilations or portions thereof, together with amendments thereto, or additions thereto:  . . ."

            The underscored language indicates the new wording inserted into the statute by the legislature.  As we interpret this new language, a county may, after the effective date of the law, adopt such provisions of chapter 19.28 RCW as are necessary for the regulation or control of the installation of electrical wires, equipment, apparatus or appliances.  This would also include the adoption of any rules or regulations relating to the installation of electrical wires and equipment presently in use by the department of labor and industries.

            We wish to point out that our interpretation of chapter 27, Laws of 1961, should not be construed as concluding that a county may enact its own ordinances or resolutions which go beyond the provisions of state law.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

EARL E. YATES
Assistant Attorney General

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