OFFICES AND OFFICERS - STATE - DEPARTMENT OF GAME - ISSUANCE OF FREE HUNTING AND FISHING LICENSES TO DISABLED VETERANS.
Section 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959, which removed the requirement that a disability be service connected in order to entitle a veteran to a free hunting and fishing license does not change the measure of disability.
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June 4, 1959
Honorable John A. Biggs, Director
Department of Game
600 North Capitol Way
Olympia, Washington Cite as: AGO 59-60 No. 42
Attention: !ttCarl Crouse,Assistant Director
We thank you for your letter of April 24, 1959, in which you request the opinion of this office as to the effect of § 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959, upon the issuance of free hunting and fishing licenses to veterans. We believe that your question may be paraphrased as follows:
Does § 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959, amending RCW 77.32.230, change the measure of disability used in issuing free licenses to disabled veterans?
We answer your question in the negative.
Prior to amendment by § 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959, RCW 77.32.230 provided as follows:
"Any bona fide resident of this state who is blind or who is a veteran of the Spanish-American War, or any person sixty-five or [[Orig. Op. Page 2]] more years of age who is an honorably discharged veteran of the United States military or naval forces having aservice connected disability and who has been a resident of this state for five years, upon the making of an affidavit to such effect, shall be given a state hunting and fishing license free of charge upon application therefor.
"A special license authorizing fishing only shall be given to the blind." (Emphasis supplied.)
The legislature, by enactment of § 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959, amended RCW 77.32.230,supra, by deleting the words "service connected" which we have underlined above. RCW 77.32.230, as amended, will provide, pertaining to this question, as follows:
". . . any . . . veteran . . . having . . . a disability . . . shall be given a state hunting and fishing license free . . ."
By deletion of the words "service connected" from RCW 77.32.230, the legislature has clearly expressed its intention that all veterans suffering a disability, who are otherwise qualified under the terms of the statute, be given a free hunting and fishing license. Such persons are now entitled to a free license, whether the disability is service connected or not.
It must be noted that the phrase "service connected" is a qualifying clause which describes theorigin of the disability and not the extent of disability. By removing this phrase from the statute, the legislature has removed the limitation as toorigin of the disability, but have neither limited nor extended the meaning of the term "disability" as used in RCW 77.32.230 prior to its amendment by § 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959. It therefore appears that the present problem is no different than that faced by the department when RCW 77.32.230 was first enacted in 1947. Section 112, chapter 245, Laws of 1947.
In the absence of a definition of the term "disability" by the legislature, the department has been guided by the standards of the Veterans Administration, and has issued free licenses to those persons receiving disability benefits. The Veterans Administration awards disability payments only for "compensable disabilities" which are measured in relation to impairment of earnings. Those disabilities which might impair earnings from less than 10% to a mathematical zero are not considered compensable.
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Barry v. Chapman, 73 N.Y.S. (2d) 142, 198 Misc. 928 (1947). It is apparent, then, that since 1947 the department has used as a standard of disability for the issuance of these licenses, one which relates to impairment of earnings, and that licenses have been issued only to those persons with a disability in excess of 10%, as rated by the Veterans Administration.
As pointed out above, § 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959, removes the limitation as to theorigin of the disability. Had the legislature intended to change the administrative interpretation of the term "disability," we believe they would have done so by further definition. Having failed to define the term further, we presume that the administrative interpretation correctly expresses the legislative intention. Our court has stated many times that when a statute is ambiguous, an administrative interpretation is entitled to considerable weight in determining the legislative intention. This is particularly true when, as here, the legislature has subsequently considered the act and amended it in some other particular, without repudiating the administrative interpretation. Bradley v. Department of Labor & Industries, 52 Wn. (2d) 780, 329 P. (2d) 196 (1958);White v. State, 49 Wn. (2d) 716, 306 P. (2d) 230 (1957); State ex rel. Pirak v. Schoettler, 45 Wn. (2d) 367, 274 P. (2d) 852 (1954).
We therefore conclude that the department may continue to apply the same measure of disability as prior to the enactment of § 2, chapter 245, Laws of 1959; however, the disability need not be connected with military service.
Very truly yours,
JOHN J. O'CONNELL
STEPHEN M. REILLY
Assistant Attorney General