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AGO 1964 No. 120 - September 09, 1964
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


OFFICES AND OFFICERS ‑- STATE ‑- DEPARTMENT OF LABOR AND INDUSTRIES ‑- ELECTRICIANS' LICENSE ‑- CONTRACTING FIRM ‑- EMPLOYEES ‑- PRE‑EMPTION PREVENTS LICENSING BY CITIES AND TOWNS.

The state acting through the department of labor and industries may not require each electrician-employee of an electrical contracting firm (which firm is licensed by the state under chapter 19.28 RCW) to obtain an individual state license.  The state license issued to the firm which entitles it to engage in business "in any and all places in the state of Washington" precludes a city or town from requiring a local license of the employees of such firm.

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                                                               September 9, 1964

Honorable Donald H. Webster
Director, Bureau of Governmental
Research and Services
3935 University Way N.E.
Seattle, Washington 98105

                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 63-64 No. 120

Dear Sir:

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

            May the state require, under the authority of RCW 19.28 [[chapter 19.28 RCW]], a state electrician's license from each electrician-employee of an electrical contracting firm; if it may not, does the state's preemption of the field of licensing electrical contractors preclude cities from demanding that electrician-employees of such contractors submit to licensing by cities?

            We answer your question in the manner set forth in our analysis.

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The question is posed whether the state may require electricians, who are employees of an electrical contracting firm having a valid state license, also to have a state electrician's license.  Your letter indicates that this question arises out of our prior opinion AGO 63-64 No. 70 [[to Robert A. Perry, State Representative on November 19, 1963]].  This opinion should be read together with that opinion.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Chapter 19.28 RCW as amended by chapter 207, Laws of 1963, provides the general framework applicable to the licensing of persons, firms or corporations engaged in the business of installing electrical wires, equipment, apparatus and appliances in the state of Washington.  RCW 19.28.120 (as amended) directly provides for such licensing.  There is nothing contained within chapter 19.28 RCW as a whole or RCW 19.28.120 (as amended) in particular to indicate that the legislature intended that individual electricians working not as contractors but as employees of contractors are to be required to have a state electrician's license before being entitled to practice their profession.  Rather the statute provides solely for the licensing of persons, firms or corporations engaged in the business of electrical construction.  When read in its entirety, it is clear that where the word "person" is used in RCW 19.28.120 (as amended), it is meant to refer to "contractors," whether they are individual proprietors, firms or corporations.  This conclusion is reinforced by the statutory language of RCW 19.28.120 (as amended) requiring applicants for a state electrician's license to state the address of their "place of business" and the name under which the business is conducted.  The provisions of the bond required of all license holders specifically require that the holder of a state electrical license shall be responsible for all damages ". . . sustained . . . due to a failure of the principal . . ." to adequately comply with the provisions of the statute or any ". . . ordinance, building code or regulation applicable thereto."  RCW 19.28.120 (as amended).  The obvious intent of the legislature was to make the license holder responsible for the work done by his employees in the furtherance of his business.  It was not intended that such electrician-employees themselves be required to provide additional security or to be licensed.  Since the statute is devoid of any showing that the legislature intended such electrician-employees to be licensed, we conclude that the state has no power to require a state electrician's license from them.

            That the state may not require such a license does not, however, mean that a city may require such an electrician-employee of an electrical contracting firm to submit to licensing by the city as a precondition to the practice of his profession.  In our prior opinion, AGO 63-64 No. 70, we concluded that the state had preempted the field of licensing of electrical contractors.  In that opinion we  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] concluded that a city could not require an electrical construction firm, possessing a valid state electrical construction license, to have on its staff an employee holding an "electrical supervisors" license issued by the city.  That conclusion was bottomed on the clear legislative intent to preempt the field of licensing electrical construction firms.  Chapter 19.28 RCW, as amended by chapter 207, Laws of 1963, RCW 19.28.120 (as amended).  The law is clear that an electrical construction firm, having a valid state license, is free to conduct its business in any and all parts of this state without the necessity of securing further electrical licenses from cities where it may be engaged in business.  RCW 19.28.120 (as amended).  And, as we pointed out previously, 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).  Numerous prior opinions of this office have held city electrical licensing laws to be invalid under this rule.  We call your attention to our informal opinion of September 9, 1940, to the Department of Labor & Industries, a copy of which is attached, in which the attorney general, concluding the state had preempted the field of licensing for the purpose 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  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] setting out the licensee's obligation on his bond there is included a provision which says that in making installation in cities or towns 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."

            The issue now posed is whether the state's preemption stops short of the electrician-employees of state licensed electrical construction firms.  We conclude that it does not.  The privilege to engage in a state‑wide [[statewide]]business would be hollow indeed if the very employees who must carry out the operations for which the firm is licensed must be licensed in every city where their employer may do business.  To require of a firm that all of its electrician-employees be so licensed would be to place upon the firm a burden that would frustrate the privilege granted by the state.  This would be thoroughly repugnant to the intent of the legislature as expressed in our statute.  We conclude, therefore, that a city may not require such licensing.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

FLOYD V. SMITH
Assistant Attorney General

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