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AGO 1982 No. 2 - January 21, 1982
AGO Opinion Header Image
Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS ‑- ELECTRICAL ‑- APPLICABILITY OF STATE ELECTRICAL CODE TO INSTALLATION OF WIRING BY MUNICIPALITIES 

(1)  When a city or other municipality which does not have its own electrical code as provided in RCW 19.28.360 installs, or causes to be installed by contract, electrical wiring to energize traffic control devices, street lights and other associated electrical apparatus, the installation is subject to inspection, as provided in RCW 19.28.210, by a state inspector. 

(2)  If the city, instead, does have its own electrical ordinance as provided in RCW 19.28.360, the installation is subject to an inspection by a locally authorized inspector of that city who must fully meet the qualifications for inspectors as provided in RCW 19.28.070. 

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

                                                                 January 21, 1982 

Honorable David S. McEachran
Prosecuting Attorney
Whatcom County
311 Grand Avenue
Bellingham, WA 98225

Cite as:  AGO 1982 No. 2                                                                                                                  

Dear Sir:

             By letter previously acknowledged you requested our opinion on certain questions which we paraphrase as follows:

             (1)  When a city or other municipality which does not have its own electrical code as provided in RCW 19.28.360 installs, or causes to be installed by contract, electrical wiring to energize traffic control devices, street lights and other associated electrical apparatus, is the installation subject to inspection, as provided in RCW 19.28.210, by a state inspector?

             (2)  If the city, instead, does have its own electrical ordinance as provided in RCW 19.28.360, is the installation subject to an inspection by a locally authorized inspector of that city?

             (3)  If a city inspector is required to inspect the work when a local option electrical ordinance is in effect, is the inspector required to fully meet the qualifications for inspectors as provided in RCW 19.28.070?

             We answer each of these questions in the affirmative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             Chapter 19.28 RCW regulates the installation of electrical wires and equipment.  The statutes contained therein can be divided into three parts:  The licensing of individual electricians (RCW 58.58.500 [chapter 19.28 RCW], et seq.); the licensing of electrical contractors and administrators (RCW 19.28.120-19.28.180); and the establishment of a state electrical wiring code and an inspection scheme to enforce the code (RCW 19.28.210,et seq.).  Your questions involve this latter inspection scheme as applied to certain electrical work performed by cities or other municipalities, either directly or by contract.

             Question (1):

             In dealing with your second and third questions, below, we will make note of RCW 19.28.360 which relates to electrical work in certain cities that have adopted their own, local, electrical codes and exempts that work from state inspection under RCW 19.28.210.  It should be noted and emphasized, however, that RCW 19.28.360 does not bear on the underlying question, here presented, of whether or not electrical wiring installed by a city, itself‑-either directly or by contract‑-is subject to inspection at all.  Rather, that statute only relates to the issue of who, the state or the city, is to do the inspecting in the event that an inspection is required to be conducted.

             Your first question assumes the case of a municipality which does not have its own electrical code, as provided in RCW 19.28.360, supra.  When such a municipality installs, or causes to have installed by contract, electrical wiring to energize traffic control devices, street lights and other associated electrical apparatus, does the installation require inspection as provided in RCW 19.28.210 by a state inspector?

             The starting point for our answer to this question is the first sentence of RCW 19.28.210 which describes the inspection authority of the Department of Labor and Industries and says:

             "The director of labor and industries, through the inspector, assistant inspector, or deputy inspector, is hereby empowered to inspect, and shall inspect,all wiring, appliances, devices and equipment to which this chapter applies. . ."

             In turn, the "wiring, appliances, devices and equipment" to which chapter 19.28 [RCW] applies are defined in RCW 19.28.010 as follows:

             "From and after the taking effect of this chapter all wires and equipment, and installation thereof, to convey electric current  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] and installations of apparatus to be operated by said current, in, on, or about buildings, or structures, except for telephone and telegraph, radio and television wires and equipment, and television antenna installations, signal strength amplifiers and coaxial installations pertaining thereto 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 approved methods of construction for safety to life and property. . ."  [Emphasis supplied.]

             Under these statutes the inspection authority of the Department of Labor and Industries is very broad.  All electrical wires and equipment in the state are subject to inspection except for certain wires and equipment related to communications and television.  No exemption is provided for in the case of work done by cities or other municipalities.1/   Therefore, such wiring as is installed by a municipality for traffic control devices, street lighting, and other associated electrical apparatus must be inspected as provided in RCW 19.28.210, supra.

            In reaching this conclusion, we are aware of the rule that legislative acts of general applicability ordinarily do not cover, and that the word "person" does not include, the state or other units of government unless there is a clear legislative intent that they be covered or included.  See, e.g.,State ex rel. Thielicke v. Superior Court, 9 Wn.2d 309, 114 P.2d 1001 (1941) andGeneral Casualty Co. of America v. Seattle First National Bank, 42 Wn.2d 433, 256 P.2d 287 (1953), and see also, AGO 1915-16, page 109 and AGO 1959-60 No. 41.  However, while public agencies are not specifically covered by the electrical code (chapter 19.28 RCW, supra), there is, we believe, a clear indication that the legislature intended that they be covered.2

              The legislature first enacted parts of what is now chapter 19.28 RCW in 1919.  See, chapter 204, Laws of 1919.  Sections 1 and 2 of that act required a license and bond for any "person, firm, or corporation" performing electrical work.  Then, however, § 5 of the act exempted particular  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] kinds of electrical work done by "individuals, firms or corporations or . . . municipalities."

            Following the enactment of that legislation this office, in early 1922, was asked whether the city Lighting Department of Seattle was required to furnish a bond.  We answered in the affirmative, in Ops. Attorney General, 1921-22, page 274, et seq., saying:

             "Section 2, Chapter 204, Laws of 1919, in part provides:

             "'Every person, firm or corporation desiring to engage in, or engaged in and desiring to continue the business of installing wires to convey electric current, or electrical apparatus to be operated by such current, shall on or before the first day of July of each and every year file with the Secretary of State (Director of Licenses) an application in writing for a license so to do.  * * * Before the license shall issue the applicant shall pay to the Secretary of State (Director of Licenses) for the use of the state, an annual license fee of fifteen dollars ($15.00) and shall execute and file with the Secretary of State (Director of Licenses) a bond running to the State of Washington in the penal sum of five hundred dollars ($500.00). * * *'

             "If this were the only material portion of the act it would doubtless be true that a municipal lighting department would not come within its terms and therefore would not be required to take out a license or furnish the bond under the rule that the word 'corporation' as used generally in a statute does not include municipal corporations unless a contrary intent can be gathered from the context.  (Ops. Atty. Gen. 1919-20, p. 218).

             "Section 5 of Chapter 204, supra, provides as follows:

             "'This act shall not apply to individuals, firms or corporations or to municipalities authorized to engage in the business of making or selling electricity in connection with the construction or maintenance of lines or wires for the transmission of electricity from the source of supply to the service switch, fuses or circuit breakers on the premises or property to be supplied; nor to the work of said individuals, firms, corporations or municipalities in installing, maintaining or repairing on the premises of customers  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] service connections and meters and other apparatus or appliances used in the measurement or the consumption of electricity by customers; nor to work in connection with the lighting of streets, alleys, ways, or public parks, areas or squares; * * *'

             "The express reference to municipalities in this section can only be explained by construing the word 'corporation' in section 2, supra, as including municipal corporations.  If section 2 be given a contrary construction then section 5 is superfluous in so far as municipalities are concerned.  We think the better view is to read the two sections together, in which event the only consistent construction would bring municipalities under the act.

             "You are advised, therefore, that the Seattle Lighting Department must obtain the license and furnish the surety bond provided by chapter 204,supra, unless its business falls within one of the exceptions enumerated in section 5."

             Following this, in 1935, the legislature enacted a broader law‑-chapter 169, Laws of 1935‑-which incorporated without significant changes the licensing and bonding requirements of the 1919 act and then added other provisions creating a state electrical code and an inspection scheme to ensure compliance with the code.  That 1935 act is the basis for the electrical contractor licensing and electrical code provisions of our present chapter 19.28 RCW.3/   And, as a consequence, municipalities are still required to be licensed and bonded when performing non-exempt electrical work because the 1935 act continued to refer to municipalities in its limited exemption section.4/   Cf., AGO 1921-22, p. 274,supra.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            The question thus becomes whether municipalities are also subject to the electrical code and inspection provisions of chapter 19.28 RCW under the same reasoning.  We believe that they are.  While municipalities were mentioned only in the part of the 1935 act dealing with licensing exemptions, we believe that the legislature must have intended the electrical code and inspection provisions of the act to apply to all persons and entities which are subject to the licensing and bonding requirements.  The primary purpose of the bond required by RCW 19.28.120 is to provide recourse to persons who have been damaged by the licensee's failure to comply with the state electrical code.  It is therefore unlikely that the legislature would have required the licensing and bonding of municipalities if those municipalities were not, in fact, subject to the electrical code and electrical inspections.

            This same conclusion is further reinforced by two additional considerations.  First, we have seen that the legislature very broadly defined the coverage of the state electrical code by stating that all electrical wires and equipment in this state were subject to the code.  We believe that there is less reason to question coverage of public agencies under this language than there is under language that defines coverage by stating that "persons, firms, and corporations" are subject to a particular law or code.  Second, referring back to footnote 1, above, there would have been no apparent reason for the enactment of RCW 19.28.380, which exempts work done within the rights of way of state highways, unless public agencies were subject to chapter 19.28 RCW.

             We therefore answer question (1), as above stated, in the affirmative.

             Question (2):

             Your second question also involves the installation of electrical wiring by a city but, in this case, the city is one which has adopted its own electrical code as provided for in RCW 19.28.360.  In such a case, you ask, does the installation require an inspection by a locally authorized inspector of the municipality?

             We again answer in the affirmative.  RCW 19.28.360 reads in material part as follows:

             "The provisions of RCW 19.28.210 shall not apply:

             "(1)  Within the corporate limits of any incorporated city or town which has heretofore adopted and enforced or subsequently adopts and enforces an ordinance requiring an equal, higher or  [[Orig. Op. Page 7]] better standard of construction and of materials, devices, appliances and equipment than is required by this chapter:  PROVIDED, That such city or town shall require that its electrical inspectors meet qualifications provided for state electrical inspectors in accordance with RCW 19.28.070.

            Under this statute, the state does not perform its usual electrical inspections in those cities and towns which have adopted their own electrical code, assuming that the locally adopted code is equal to or better than the state code.5/   Instead, RCW 19.28.360(1) provides that the city or town "enforces" its own code.6/   Thus, if a municipality has its own electrical code a city electrical inspector is to inspect the electrical wiring and devices which would otherwise be inspected by a state inspector under RCW 19.28.210 including those installed by the city itself.

             Question (3):

             By this question you asked:

             If a municipal inspector is required to inspect the work when a local option electrical ordinance is in effect, is the inspector required to fully meet the qualifications for inspector as provided in RCW 19.28.070?

             This question is also answered by RCW 19.28.360(1), supra.  Under this provision city inspectors are required to meet the same qualifications provided for state electrical inspectors in accordance with RCW 19.28.070.  That statute provides, in pertinent part, as follows:

             ". . . All electrical inspectors appointed by the director of labor and industries shall be electricians of not less than four years experience in stalling and maintaining electrical equipment, or four years experience as electrical inspectors for a municipality, or two years electrical training in a college of electrical  [[Orig. Op. Page 8]] engineering of recognized standing, and two years continuous practical electrical experience in installation work or four years of electrical training in a college of electrical engineering of recognized standing . . ."

             We have found no provision in chapter 19.28 RCW which would in any way excuse a city electrical inspector from meeting the requirements of RCW 19.28.070 when inspecting the wiring described in your letter.7

              This completes our consideration of your several questions.  We trust that the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
 KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General 

MICHAEL E. TARDIF
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/RCW 19.28.330 does contain an additional exemption from chapter 19.28 RCW for work done within the rights-of-way of state highways‑-a point which we will note, again, momentarily.

 2/To determine whether the word "person" includes the state or other unit of government, General Casualty, supra, suggests at page 442 that ". . . the purpose and subject matter of the statute, and the context in which the term is used, may be considered, along with other factors."  We will use a similar approach to determine if municipalities are covered by the general language in chapter 19.28 RCW which establishes the state electrical code.

 3/The licensing of electrical administrators (RCW 19.28.120(2), RCW 19.28.123 and RCW 19.28.125) was added in 1974.  See, chapter 188, Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess.  The licensing of individual electricians (RCW 19.28.500,et seq.) was, in turn, added in 1980 and was largely a recodification of former chapter 18.37 RCW.  See, chapter 30, Laws of 1980.

 4/The exemption section has since been codified as RCW 19.28.200.  In 1980, the legislature changed the exemption from one for "any person, firm, corporation, or municipal corporation" to one for "any utility."  See, § 15, chapter 30, Laws of 1980.  We do not believe that this amendment, occurring 45 years after the enactment of the electrical licensing law, changes the legislative intent that municipalities be covered by the law.

 5/RCW 19.28.360(1), supra, is a companion provision to the first proviso in RCW 19.28.010 which allows cities and towns to adopt their own electrical codes if those codes meet certain standards.

 6/RCW 19.28.070 also provides that officials of cities and towns have the duty to enforce the electrical codes required by chapter 19.28 RCW.

 7/We note that RCW 19.28.070 and RCW 19.28.360 seem to be inconsistent in one respect.  RCW 19.28.360 requires that city inspectors meet the qualifications for state inspectors set by RCW 19.28.070 while one of the alternative qualifications in RCW 19.28.070 is four years' experience as a municipal inspector.  The inconsistency can be eliminated by reading the statutes with an awareness of their legislative history.  RCW 19.28.070 was enacted in 1935 when cities had electrical inspectors and the state did not have electrical inspectors.  Sec. 3, ch. 169, Laws of 1935.  It was thus reasonable to provide that experienced municipal inspectors could become state inspectors.  When RCW 19.28.360 was amended in 1967 to require that city inspectors meet the same requirements as state inspectors, the reference to municipal inspectors was not removed from RCW 19.28.070.  Therefore, the effect of this amendment was to permit existing city inspectors to become state inspectors even though they did not possess the newly-required state qualifications but to requirenew city inspectors to have the same experience required to become a state inspector.  Sec. 1, ch. 97, Laws of 1967, Ex. Sess. 

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