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AGO 1963 No. 45 - August 05, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


DISTRICTS ‑- WATER ‑- COMMISSIONERS ‑- GROUP MEDICAL INSURANCE PLAN OR HEALTH CARE PLAN FOR EMPLOYEES AND DEPENDENTS ‑- AUTHORITY ‑- COMMISSIONERS NOT INCLUDED.

(1) A water district has the power to initiate and maintain a group medical insurance plan or health care plan for its employees and their dependents and to pay the entire cost thereof.

(2) Same: A water district does not have any authority to pay all or any part of the cost of such plan for the benefit of the commissioners of the district since they are officers not employees of the district.

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

                                                                  August 5, 1963

Honorable James A. Anderson
State Representative, 48th District
3008 98th N.E.
Bellevue, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 45

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged, you have requested the opinion of this office on two questions which we paraphrase as follows:

            (1) Does a water district have the power to initiate and maintain a group medical insurance plan or health care plan for its employees and their dependents and to pay the entire cost thereof?

            (2) If so, can the district pay all or any part of the cost of such plan for the benefit of the commissioners of the district?

            We answer your first question in the affirmative and your second in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Water districts have since 1961 been specifically empowered to provide group medical insurance or health care services for their employees and to pay all or any part of the cost thereof.  This authority was given by § 2, chapter 261, Laws of 1961, codified as RCW 57.08.100, and providing in part as follows:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "A water district, by a majority vote of its board of commissioners, may enter into contracts to provide health care services and/or group insurance, other than life insurance,for the benefit of its employees and may pay all or any part of the cost thereof. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)

            During its last session the legislature enacted chapter 75, Laws of 1963, which provides:

            "Section 1. Any department, division, or separate agency of the state government, and any county, municipality or other political subdivision of the state acting through its principal supervising official or governing body may, whenever funds shall be available for that purpose, provide for all or a part of hospitalization and medical aidfor its employees and their dependents through contracts with regularly constituted insurance carriers or with health care service contractors as defined in chapter 48.44 RCW, for group hospitalization and medical aid policies or plans:  PROVIDED, That the contributions of any department, division or separate agency of the state government and school districts shall be limited to not to exceed fifty percent of any premium therefor, or five dollars per month per employee covered, whichever is less except that such limitation shall not apply to employees employed under chapter 47.64 RCW.

            "Sec. 2. The cost of any such group policy or plan to any such public agency or body shall be deemed additional compensation to the employees covered thereby for services rendered, and any officer authorized to disburse such funds may pay in whole or in part to any such insurance carrier or health care service contractor the amount of the premiums due pursuant to any such contract."  (Emphasis supplied.)1/

             Inasmuch as the coverage authorized by RCW 57.08.100, is limited to  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] employees only, the answer to your first question depends upon whether a water district is included within the more general and liberal provisions of chapter 75, Laws of 1963, which by its terms empowersany governmental unit of the state to provide group medical insurance or health care servicesfor both its employees and their dependents.  In determining the meaning of any statute, the controlling principle is to ascertain and give effect to the intention of the legislature as manifested by the language of the act and the apparent object and purpose of the legislation.  Guiness v. State, 40 Wn.2d 677, 246 P.2d 433 (1952); Lynch v. Dept. of Labor & Industries, 19 Wn.2d 802, 145 P.2d 265 (1944);State v. Robinson, 67 Wash. 425, 121 Pac. 848 (1912).  The intention of the legislature in enacting chapter 75, Laws of 1963, is manifest from the language employed in the enabling provisions contained in § 1 of the act, whereby the authority to provide such insurance is given to "Any department, division or separate agency of state government, andany county, municipality or other political subdivision of the state. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.)  To say that merely by its failure to directly amend the 1961 act, or to make any specific reference to water districts, the legislature intended to exclude this particular municipal corporation from the provisions of the 1963 act would give that statute a construction diametrically opposed to its plain and unambiguous wording and would defeat its obvious purpose‑-that the act should without restriction encompass and benefit the employees of any governmental unit of the state that chose to take advantage of its provisions.  Indeed, the legislature could not have employed a phraseology more broad or all-inclusive than that used in this instance.

            Our court has said that where the wording of a statute is clear and unambiguous in its terms, its provisions are not subject to interpretation or construction.  State ex rel. Evans v. Brotherhood, Etc., 41 Wn.2d 133, 247 P.2d 787 (1952);Shelton Hotel Co. v. Bates, 4 Wn.2d 498, 104 P.2d 478 (1940).

            It is our opinion, therefore, that your first question must be answered in the affirmative and that a water district now has the authority to initiate and maintain a health care or group medical insurance plan for both its employees and their dependents and to pay all or any part of the cost thereof.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            In answer to your second question, we direct your attention to an opinion of this office issued September 30, 1958, to the Honorable John J. Lally, Prosecuting Attorney of Spokane County (cited as AGO 57-58 No. 220), in which the question presented was whether or not the term "employees" as used in RCW 36.32.400 could properly be construed to include elected county officials.  That statute provided in part:

            "Any county by a majority vote of its board of county commissioners may enter into contracts to provide health care services and/or group insurance for the benefit of its employees, and may pay all or any part of the cost thereof. . . ."

            After setting forth at length an analysis of the distinction between officers and employees, we emphasized the following statement made by the New York Court of Appeals inToomey v. New York Legislature, 2 N.Y.2d 446, 141 N.E.2d 584 (1957), wherein the court held that members of the legislature and other elected public officers were not encompassed within the term "employees" as used in that state's workmen compensation act:

            ". . . The point is that when [such] 'officers' are treated as 'employees' for a special purpose, the Legislature has specifically authorized such treatment by appropriate legislative enactment. . . ."

            We then answered the question in the negative, saying:

            "Obviously, if the legislature had intended the medical plan to cover 'elected county officers' it would have expressly provided therefor. . . ."

            We find no basis for a distinction between RCW 36.32.400 and the statutes in question (RCW 57.08.100 and chapter 75, Laws of 1963), in so far as the meaning of the term "employees" is concerned; nor do we see in this regard any distinction between elected county officers and the commissioners of a water district, the latter also being the elected governing officers of a distinct political subdivision of the state (see, RCW 57.04.060, 57.12.010, 57.12.020 and 57.12.030).

            It is therefore our opinion that neither RCW 57.08.100 nor chapter  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] 75, Laws of 1963, empowers a water district to pay any part of the premiums of a group health care or medical insurance plan for the benefit of the commissioners of such district.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

GERALD C. WEAVER
Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/It should be noted that the proviso limiting an employing agency's contribution to fifty percent of any premium of five dollars per month per employee covered, whichever is less, does not apply to water districts or any other municipal corporation, except school districts.

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