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AGO 1963 No. 70 - November 19, 1963
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


CITIES AND TOWNS ‑- ELECTRICIAN SUPERVISORS ‑- LICENSES ‑- PRE‑EMPTION BY STATE ‑- AUTHORITY OF CITY.

A city may not require an electricians supervisors' license for all electrical contracting firms doing business within the city since the state has preempted this licensing field and any such ordinance would conflict with state law.

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                                                               November 19, 1963

Honorable Robert A. Perry
State Representative, 45th District
1154 North 92nd Street
Seattle 3, Washington

                                                                                                                Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 70

Dear Sir:

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

            May a city require an electricians supervisors' license for all electrical contracting firms doing business within the confines of their city?

            We answer this question in the negative.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            Chapter 19.28 RCW as amended by chapter 207, Laws of 1963, provides for the licensing of persons, firms or corporations engaged in the business of installing of electrical wires, equipment, apparatus and appliances in the state of Washington.

            RCW 19.28.120 (as amended) requires that before one may engage in such business, a valid license shall be obtained from the state of Washington.  Once the requirements of the statute have been met, the department of labor and industries is empowered to grant a license which entitles the holder to

            ". . . engage in, conduct, or carry on, the business of installing wires or equipment to carry electric current, installing apparatus or appliances to be operated by such current, in any and all places in the state of Washington. . . ."  (Emphasis supplied.) (§ 2, chapter 207, Laws of 1963.)

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            An applicant for a license is required by the statute to secure a bond which is conditioned, in part, that the licensee will

            ". . . comply with the provisions of this chapter and in case such installation is in an incorporated city or town having an ordinance, building code, or regulations prescribing equal, a higher or better standard, manner or method of such installation, that the principal will comply with the provisions of such ordinance, building code or regulations governing such installation as may be in effect at the time of entering into a contract for such installation . . ."  (§ 2, chapter 207, Laws of 1963.)

            It is basic that cities may not pass licensing laws if a valid state licensing law has preempted the field.  Bellingham v. Schampera, 57 Wn.2d 106, 356 P.2d 292 (1960).  Prior opinions of this office have held various city electrical licensing laws to be invalid under this rule.  We have attached a copy of an opinion of September 9, 1940, in which the then attorney general, in concluding that the state has preempted the field of licensing for the purposes of the statute, stated:

            ". . . The parties having charge of such work are required to pay a license fee for the privilege of entering the field, and are further required to furnish a bond to assure the faithful performance of their duties in connection with such installation.  The statute says that when they have paid for and received such license, and have furnished the required bond that they may then engage in, and conduct, and carry on the business of installing wires or equipment 'in any and all places in the State of Washington.'

            "We are not unmindful of the fact that the Legislature has recognized that some cities may insist on installation methods that may be superior to those approved by the State, and in such respect may differ from the methods of installation prescribed in the Act.  So in setting out the licensee's obligation on his bond there is included a provision which says that in making installation in cities or towns  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] prescribing a higher or better standard of installation, that the principal will comply with the provisions of such city ordinances.  In other words, a city may not be satisfied with the installation methods required by the State, and may demand a superior and more costly installation.  In such case the holder of the license must comply with the city regulations.  But the city can not require him to pay an additional license fee."

            We have also enclosed copies of two informal opinions written on September 5, 1952, and February 8, 1954.  In the latter opinion this office reviewed the statute and prior opinions and concluded:

            "We think that this provision is clear and specific, and that the state has, under such language, preempted the field in so far as licensing is concerned.

            ". . . Consequently, it is still our opinion that when a license is issued . . . under the provisions of this chapter, a city may not require additional or further licensing."

            You have suggested in your letter that an electricians supervisors' licensing law does not specifically require the licensing of an electrical contractor, but rather an individual in each contracting firm who would be qualified to supervise electrical installations.  However, we believe the effect of such a proposal would be the same; an additional license requirement would be imposed upon a contractor before he could engage in the business activity for which he had been licensed by the state.  We believe such a proposal would be in violation of the letter and spirit of the statute and prior opinions of this office.

            We express no opinion as to whether other methods of enforcement of city standards would be permissible.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

FLOYD V. SMITH
Assistant Attorney General

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