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AGO 1959 No. 66 - September 15, 1959
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington


Section 2, chapter 133, Laws of 1959, prohibiting public library board members from serving more than two consecutive terms applies to terms served prior to the effective date of the 1959 enactment.

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                                                              September 15, 1959

Honorable Arthur L. Hawman
Prosecuting Attorney
Walla Walla County
Walla Walla, Washington                                                                                   Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 66

Dear Sir:

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

            Does section 2, chapter 133, Laws of 1959 prohibiting public library board members from serving more than two consecutive terms apply to terms served prior to the effective date of the 1959 enactment?

            We answer this question in the affirmative.


            Section 2, chapter 133, Laws of 1959 pertaining to public library boards (amending RCW 27.12.190) reads in part, as follows:

            ". . . No person shall be appointed or elected to any board of trustees for more than two consecutive terms. . . ."

            While it is a fundamental rule of statutory construction that a statute is presumed to operate prospectively and should not be construed to operate retroactively in the absence of language evidencing a clear legislative intent, a statute is not made retroactive merely because it draws upon facts antecedent to its enactment for its operation, as in the instant case.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            Earle v. Froedtert Grain and Malting Co., 197 Wash. 341, 85 P. (2d) 264.

            We believe the statute clearly shows the legislative intent to limit the office holders to two terms.  The legislature did not provide that the prohibition against more than two terms should only apply to terms commenced after its effective date.  The rule is that where the language of the statute is plain, free from ambiguity and devoid of uncertainty, there is no room for construction because the meaning will be discovered from the wording of the statute itself.  Shelton Hotel Co. Inc., v. Bates, 4 Wn. (2d) 498, 104 P. (2d) 478.  To hold that the statute only applies to terms commencing after its effective date, June 11, 1959, would be to subvert the intent of the legislature.  This would allow, for example, the person who has held the office for six consecutive terms to continue in office for another two terms even though the statute specifically provides that no person shall serve for more than two consecutive terms.

            The effect of the statute is to change the qualifications of a person regarding his eligibility to be appointed or elected to the board.  We must presume that facts existed which prompted the legislature in enacting this statute.  It is indisputable that a person has no vested right to hold a public office and that the legislature, in its discretion, may provide certain qualifications that a person must have in order to hold a certain office.  The rule is aptly set forth in 67 C.J.S., Officers, § 11, as follows:

            "Although all persons are equally eligible to office who are not excluded by some constitutional or legal disqualification, the right to be appointed or elected to a public office is not a natural or inherent right, but a privilege which may be qualified or taken away; and, subject to such constitutional limitations as may be imposed, the legislature has power to fix the qualifications of those who shall hold office."

            Therefore, those persons who have held the office of public library board member for a period of two consecutive terms are ineligible to be reelected or reappointed.  It follows that those who have held the office for more than one term are eligible to hold office for a second term, but at the expiration of the second term would be ineligible for a third term.  The statute constitutes qualifications for an office holder, and if the qualifications are not met, the person is not eligible for the office.

            The statute does not in any manner invalidate the present qualifications of a person currently holding such office regardless of the number of terms he has been in office.  The statute simply provides that after the effective  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] date of the statute, June 11, 1959, that any person seeking to be reappointed or re elected [[reelected]]must, in order to be qualified, show that he has not been currently in office for two consecutive terms.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

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