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AGO 1984 No. 28 - November 30, 1984
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Ken Eikenberry | 1981-1992 | Attorney General of Washington

CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS ‑- ELECTRICAL ‑- APPLICABILITY OF MUNICIPAL ELECTRICAL CODE TO INSTALLATION OF WIRING IN STATE BUILDINGS.

(1) Under the provisions of chapter 19.28 RCW, regulating the installation of electrical wiring and equipment, cities and towns are authorized to enact electrical code ordinances establishing equal, higher or better standards than set forth in the state law; and, where a city or town has, in fact, done so the inspection functions and responsibilities then pass from the state to the city or town itself.

(2) A local, municipal, electrical code so adopted by a city or town is applicable to the installation of electrical wiring and equipment involved in the construction of new buildings by state agencies within the particular city; and the city may impose its prescribed electrical inspection and permit fees in connection with the construction of such state facilities. 

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                                                               November 30, 1984 

Honorable Avery Garrett
Chairman
Municipal Research Council
4719 Brooklyn Avenue N.E.
Seattle, Washington 98105

Cite as:  AGO 1984 No. 28                                                                                                                

 Dear Sir:

             By letter previously acknowledged you requested the opinion of this office on the following questions:

             "1.  Do cities in this state have the authority to enact electrical code ordinances establishing equal, higher or better standards than set forth in Ch. 19.28 RCW?

             "2.  If the answer to question No. 1 is in the affirmative, may such a city require state agencies to comply with the city's electrical code in connection with their construction of new buildings within the city?  If so, may the city impose its prescribed electrical inspection and permit fees in connection with the construction of such state facilities?"

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            We answer your questions in the affirmative for the reasons set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

             Chapter 19.28 RCW regulates the installation of electrical wiring and equipment.  The statutes contained therein can be divided into three parts:  The establishment of a state electrical wiring code (RCW 19.28.010-19.28.100); the licensing of individual electricians (RCW 19.28.120-19.28.200); and an inspection system to enforce the code (RCW 19.28.210, et seq.).  Your first question involves the authority of cities or towns to adopt their own electrical ordinances ". . . establishing equal, higher or better standards . . ." than those set forth in the state law.  Your second question, in turn, relates to the applicability of such locally-adopted electrical ordinances to wiring involved in the construction of buildings owned by the State of Washington and located within the boundaries of a municipality which has, in fact, done so;i.e., adopted a local electrical ordinance.

             Question (1):

             The key provision dealing with the issue raised by your first question is RCW 19.28.010.  Subsection (1) of that statute sets forth certain standards and requirements relating, generally, to electrical wiring throughout the state.  Subsection (2) then provides, however, that:

             "This chapter shall not limit the authority or power of any city or town to enact and enforce under authority given by law, any ordinance, rule, or regulation requiring an equal, higher, or better standard of construction and an equal, higher, or better standard of materials, devices, appliances, and equipment than that required by this chapter.  In a city or town having an equal, higher, or better standard the installations, materials, devices, appliances, and equipment shall be in accordance with the ordinance, rule, or regulation of the city or town."

             Also to be noted is RCW 19.28.210.  The first sentence of that statute, referring to the director of Labor and Industries, provides that:

             "The director shall cause an inspector to inspect all wiring, appliances, devices, and equipment to which this chapter applies."

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

The second sentence of RCW 19.28.210 then reads:

            "Nothing contained in this chapter may be construed as providing any authority for any subdivision of government to adopt by ordinance any provisions contained or provided for in this chapter except those pertaining to cities and towns pursuant to RCW 19.28.010(2)."  (Emphasis supplied)

             Thus in that statute relating to electrical inspections we have, once again, an acknowledgment of the express authority of cities and towns (to the exclusion of other units of local government) to adopt their own electrical ordinances,

             ". . . requiring an equal, higher, or better standard of construction and an equal, higher, or better standard of materials, devices, appliances, and equipment . . ."

             Finally, we note a third statement to the same effect in RCW 19.28.360 which says, quite simply, that the provisions of RCW 19.28.210, supra, (relating to electrical inspections by the Department of Labor and Industries)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 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.

             "(2) Within the service area of an electricity supply agency owned and operated by a city or town which is supplying electricity and enforcing a standard of construction and materials outside its corporate limits at the time this act takes effect:Provided, That such city, town or agency shall henceforth enforce by inspection within its service area outside its corporate limits the same standards of construction and of materials, devices, appliances and equipment as is enforced by the department of labor and industries under the authority of this chapter:Provided further, That  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] fees charged henceforth in connection with such enforcement shall not exceed those established in RCW 19.28.210."

             What the foregoing means, in terms of your first question, is that the issue as you have stated it is, quite clearly, answerable in the affirmative.  Cities and towns in this state clearly do have the authority to enact electrical code ordinances establishing equal, higher or better standards than those set forth in chapter 19.28 RCW.

             In addition, by reason of RCW 19.28.360, supra, it also means that where a city or town has, in fact, done so the inspection functions and responsibilities then pass from the state to the city or town itself.  Accord, AGO 1982 No. 2, copy enclosed, in which we said at page 7, after quoting RCW 19.28.360, supra:

             "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.  Instead, RCW 19.28.360(1) provides that the city or town 'enforces' its own code.  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."  (Footnotes omitted)

             Question (2):

             Your second question assumes the foregoing affirmative answer to question (1) and asks:

             ". . . may such a city require state agencies to comply with the city's electrical code in connection with their construction of new buildings within the city? . . ."

             In addition, assuming an affirmative answer to that question as well, you have also asked:

             ". . . may the city impose its prescribed electrical inspection and permit fees in connection with the construction of such state facilities?"

              [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            Where a city or town adopts its own electrical code pursuant to RCW 19.28.010(2),supra, we have just seen how the inspection system is affected.  RCW 19.28.210 becomes inapplicable pursuant to RCW 19.28.360, and the inspection functions and responsibilities thus pass to the city or town itself.

             In addition, also by virtue of RCW 19.28.360, supra, it is clear that the city or town‑-having thus adopted its own code‑-has the authority to impose fees in connection with its resulting inspection functions so long as those fees do not exceed the fees established in RCW 19.28.210 for state inspections.  And the latter statute provides, on that count, as follows:

             ". . . The director, subject to the recommendations and approval of the advisory board, shall set by rule a schedule of license and electrical work permit fees that will cover the costs of administration and enforcement of this chapter.  The rules shall be adopted in accordance with the administrative procedure act, chapter 34.04 RCW.  No fee may be charged for plug-in mobile homes, recreational vehicles, or portable appliances."

             The only remaining issue to be considered, therefore, is the applicability of what we have thus far said in those instances where the electrical wiring is related to the construction of a building or other structure by a state agency within the particular city.

             In those situations where the building is being constructed by the state at a locationnot within the boundaries of a city or town which has adopted its own local electrical code it seems readily apparent‑-in the absence of anything in the statute to the contrary‑-that both RCW 19.28.010(1),supra, and RCW 19.28.210, supra, apply; i.e., the state electrical wiring standards and accompanying state inspection system.  Conversely, in those cases where the state construction occurs within the boundaries of a city or town which has adopted its own local code, RCW 19.28.360 provides that RCW 19.28.210 is inapplicable.  The pertinent standards and requirements are those set forth in the local code and the local inspection systems, instead, applies.

             We have already concluded, in AGO 1982 No. 2, supra, that the local electrical code (and accompanying local inspection system) then applies to ". . . 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."  (Emphasis supplied).   [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]  By the same reasoning, it logically follows that, in the absence of anything in the statutes to the contrary, the same is also true of electrical wiring or installation in connection withstate building projects.  Indeed, any other conclusion would result in a void in coverage.  Under such a contrary conclusion a state construction project occurring in a city or town which has adopted its own local electrical code would not be subject to local inspection, but the state inspection system provided for in RCW 19.28.210,supra, would also be inapplicable under RCW 19.28.360,supra, which, as we have seen, says that "[t]he provisions of RCW 19.28.210 shall not apply . . . [w]ithin the corporate limits of any incorporated city or town which has heretofore adopted and enforced . . . an ordinance requiring an equal, higher or better standard of construction . . ."  (Emphasis supplied).

             It is, however, fundamental that such an incongruous result is not to be attributed to our legislature.  Wilson v. Lund, 74 Wn.2d 945, 447 P.2d 718 (1968) and cases cited therein.

            Additionally, a comparison of chapter 19.28 RCW with the inspection statute (chapter 70.87 RCW) for elevators and other lifting devices suggests to us that if the legislature had truly intended to exempt state‑owned buildings located within a municipality having its own electrical code from municipal regulation and inspection, it would have expressly done so.  The state elevator law provides for a similar state inspection system and, like RCW 19.28.210, contains an exemption provision for elevators in municipalities which have adopted their own inspection codes.  See, RCW 70.87.200(2).  In that case, however, the legislature has specifically provided, in RCW 70.87.050, that state‑owned buildings and facilities (as well as other public buildings not owned by the city itself) nevertheless remain under the jurisdiction of the Department of Labor and Industries.

            For the foregoing reasons, therefore, we answer each of your questions in the affirmative.  We trust that this opinion will be of assistance to you.

 Very truly yours,
KENNETH O. EIKENBERRY
Attorney General 

PHILIP H. AUSTIN
Senior Deputy Attorney General

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