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AGO 1962 No. 151 - August 06, 1962
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- LEGISLATURE ‑- LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL ‑- INVESTIGATION AND PUBLIC HEARING ‑- PRIOR APPROVAL REQUIRED.

The prior approval of two-thirds of the membership of the legislative council is required before the council has the authority to conduct any public hearings or investigations under RCW 44.24.020 (3).

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                                                                  August 6, 1962

Honorable Edward F. Riley
State Senator, 35th District
2222 Westlake Avenue North
Seattle 9, Washington

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 61-62 No. 151

Dear Sir:

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

            Do members of the legislative council comprising less than a two-thirds majority have power to authorize and conduct public hearings and investigations?

            We answer your question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The state legislative council was created by an act of the thirtieth legislature, chapter 36, Laws of 1947, which is now codified, as amended, as chapter 44.24 RCW.  Shortly after passage the act was characterized as creating a legislative interim committee with power to subdivide into smaller more workable subcommittees, for the purpose of aiding the legislature in its principal function.

            "The statute (Laws of 1947, chapter 36) which created the legislative council, does no more than make available new machinery and new methods by which the members of the committee may keep themselves informed upon specific problems; and that statute does not impose upon the members of the council who are members of the legislature, any new office or trust.   [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] The additional duties which are imposed upon the legislative members of the council are no different in purpose and kind from those which they already perform."  State ex rel Hamblen v. Yelle, 29 Wn. (2d) 68, 77, 185 P. (2d) 723 (1947).

            The power to create such interim committees with authority to conduct legislative investigations between sessions is an inherent power of the legislature.  State ex rel. Robinson v. Fluent, 30 Wn. (2d) 194, 191 P. (2d) 241 (1948) cert. den. sub. nom.Washington Pension Union v. Washington, 335 U.S. 844, 93 L.Ed. 394, 69 S.Ct. 66 (1948).

            InState ex rel. Hodde v. Superior Court, 40 Wn. (2d) 502, 244 P. (2d) 668 (1952), our court quashed an injunction intended to prevent an investigatory hearing by a legislative council subcommittee, recognizing the council as a continuing organization and applying to it the familiar presumption that public officials are initially presumed to act within the limits of their authority.

            In answering your question the act creating the council must be perused in order to find what, if any, limitations have been placed upon the council's authority to conduct investigatory hearings.  The pertinent rule is expressed as follows:

            "The scope of the powers of a legislative committee and the matters which it may investigate are referable primarily to the act or resolution to which it owes its existence. . . ." 49 Am.Jur., States, Territories, and Dependencies, § 42, p. 259.

            Among those powers expressly granted is the power to hold hearings, subject to a specific limitation.

            "The council shall have the following powers and duties:

            ". . .

            "(3) To make such other studies and examinations of the state government and its state agencies as it may find advisable and to hear complaints, hold hearings, gather information and make findings of fact with respect thereto:   [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]Provided, That no investigation shall be had or public hearing be held without prior approval of two-thirds of the membership of the council:  Provided further, That any investigation or hearing once commenced may be terminated by a majority vote of the council."  (Emphasis supplied.)  RCW 44.24.020.

            You will note that the above underlined proviso requires the prior approval of the council by two-thirds of the membership before the commencement of an investigation or public hearing.  This proviso is the result of amendments to House Bill No. 13 by a free conference committee of the 1955 legislature, chapter 206, Laws of 1955, and supplies a complete answer to the question you have presented.

            In considering your question we secured a copy of the regulations passed by the council, pursuant to authority contained in RCW 44.24.070, and we note that these rules appear to recognize the prior council approval requirement outlined above.  Rules A-3 (1); C-18 (2); C-19.  A copy of these regulations is enclosed herewith.

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

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

DAVID C. CUMMINS
Assistant Attorney General

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