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AGO 1960 No. 107 - March 15, 1960
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John J. O'Connell | 1957-1968 | Attorney General of Washington

MUNICIPAL CORPORATIONS - CLAIMS - FORM OF VOUCHER - METHOD OF INCORPORATING CERTIFICATE.

It is sufficient compliance with RCW 42.24.030, requiring certain certificates to be "a part of the voucher," where certificate is either stamped on or attached to the face of the vendor's invoice, which is in turn attached to a voucher "jacket" or voucher form.

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                                                                  March 15, 1960

Honorable Cliff Yelle
State Auditor
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                     Cite as:  AGO 59-60 No. 107

Dear Sir:

            By letter dated February 16, 1960, you have requested our opinion on the interpretation of RCW 42.24.030, as follows:

            Insofar as claims against counties, cities, and other municipal corporations are concerned, does it constitute sufficient compliance with the cited statute to

            (1) rubber-stamp the vendor's certificate on the face of the vendor's invoice; or

            (2) attach the vendor's certificate to the face of the vendor's invoice?

            You state that in connection with both of the proposed procedures, it is assumed that the invoice will be attached to a voucher jacket or voucher form for purposes of making the proper account distribution and for the disbursing officer to execute his certificate, as required by RCW 42.24.010.

            We answer both of your questions in the affirmative.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

                                                                     ANALYSIS

            The problem arises because of an apparent ambiguity in chapter 42.24 RCW.  RCW 42.24.010 (§ 1, chapter 126, Laws of 1891) reads as follows:

            "All precinct, county, district and state officers and all commissions of the State of Washington charged with the disbursement of public moneys or certifying indebtedness to the state auditor, or other disbursing officer, shall take fully itemized vouchers for such disbursements; said vouchers shall be taken in duplicate, one to be filed with the auditor of state, the other to be retained by the officer making the disbursement or certifying the indebtedness.  Said vouchers shall contain a certificate by the disbursing officer, certifying on honor that the materials furnished, labor performed, or services rendered, for which such disbursement is made have been actually delivered, rendered or performed:  Provided, That all county, district or precinct officers shall file such vouchers with the county auditor."

            RCW 42.24.030 (§ 2, chapter 126, Laws of 1891), as originally enacted, provided as follows:

            "That all persons furnishing materials, rendering service or performing labor, or receiving certificates of indebtedness from any disbursing or other officer of the state, or any county, district or precinct officer or commission shall furnish a certificate, certifying on honor, that he has furnished materials, rendered services or performed labor, as described in said voucher, which said certificateshall be a part of such voucher or attached to the same."  (Emphasis supplied)

            The statute presently reads in pertinent part as follows:

            "All persons furnishing materials, rendering service or performing labor, or receiving certificates of indebtedness from any disbursing officer of the state, or any county,city, district,  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] or precinct, shall furnish a certificate, certifying on honor that he has furnished materials, rendered services, or performed labor, as described and that the claim is just, due and unpaid, which certificateshall be a part of the voucher: . . ."  (Emphasis supplied)

            The present language, as underscored above, was first employed by the code reviser in the 1951 revision.  It was subsequently adopted by the legislature in § 1, chapter 339, Laws of 1955.  The statute, as it now reads, is ambiguous because it is not clear whether the legislature meant, by the use of the amended phrase, to require the certificate to be incorporated in the body of a single document of a certain prescribed kind, or whether the statute as amended would continue to allow the certificate to be a "part" of the voucher in the more general sense, i.e., by attachment to another document.

            It is fundamental, of course, that the primary purpose of construing a statute is to ascertain the intention of the legislature.  Cory v. Nethery, 19 Wn. (2d) 326, 142 P. (2d) 488 (1943).  The legislative intent is to be determined according to the generally accepted understanding of the words used in the statute.  Parker v. Department of Labor and Industries, 14 Wn. (2d) 481, 128 P. (2d) 497 (1942).

            The word "part" usually means an "integral portion; something essentially belonging to a larger whole; that which together with another or others makes up a whole."  Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Edition; First-Mechanics National Bank of Trenton v. Norris, 134 N.J. Eq. 229, 34 A. (2d) 746, 749.  Therefore, unless there were some special reason for making a distinction between the two, the phrases "a part of" the voucher, or "attached to" the voucher would mean the same thing.  That there is no special reason for distinction between the two becomes clear when we consider that the legislature has not, in chapter 42.24 RCW, prescribed any definite form of voucher, other than that it should be fully itemized and properly certified.  The generally accepted understanding of the word "voucher" is fairly broad.  Used in connection with the disbursement of money, the term usually means:

            ". . . a written or printed instrument, in the nature of a bill of particulars, account, receipt, or acquittance, that shows on its face the fact, authority, and purpose of the disbursement."

            See Black's Law Dictionary, 4th Edition; Robertsons' Guardian v. Fid. & Cas. Co. of New York, 227 Ky. 114, 12 S.W. (2d) 298 (1928);  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] Hill v. Roberts, (Ky.), 311 S.W. (2d) 569 (1958);People ex rel. Brinkerhoff v. Swigert, 107 Ill. 494 (1883); State ex rel. Dales v. Moore, 36 Neb. 579, 54 N.W. 866 (1893);Moore v. Garneau, 39 Neb. 511, 58 N.W. 179 (1894) (voucher with exhibits attached held sufficient); 1st Nat. Bank of Chicago v. City of Elgin, 136 Ill. App. 453 (1907);Clement v. Graham, 78 Vt. 290, 63 Atl. 146 (1906);People v. Green, (N.Y.) 5 Daly 194, 199.  In 92 C.J.S., Voucher, we find:

            "The word has several meanings.  It has been defined as a document which serves to vouch the truth of accounts or to confirm and establish facts of any kind; a document which shows that services have been performed or expenses incurred; an instrument which attests, warrants, maintains, bears witness."

            The Kentucky cases cited above indicate that a cancelled check might serve as a voucher.  While our own supreme court has ruled to the contrary on that particular point (In re Campbell's Estate, 98 Wash. 295, 167 Pac. 905 (1917)), the case does not otherwise define the term "voucher."

            We see no reason, therefore, why the term "voucher" would not include a form with invoices and certificate attached.  While the change in language from the phrase "a part of such voucher or attached to the same" found in the 1891 statute to "a part of the voucher" in the 1955 amendment, would doubtless import some significance under ordinary circumstances, it is our opinion that no such significance should be attached to the change in this instance.  The code reviser, as we have noted, first made the change.  Since that agency has no law making power we must presume that its intention was not to change the substance of the law, but only to clarify and simplify the language of the statute, interpreting the phrases in question to mean one and the same thing.  The legislature subsequently adopted the language as thus changed.

            The following statement from 50 Am. Jur., Statutes, § 447, appears to be in point:

            "The presumption, in the case of a change in phraseology in the amendment of a statute, that a departure from the old law is intended, is of little force in the case of a general revision or codification of the laws.  In this respect, it is well settled that neither an alteration in phraseology, nor an omission or addition of words,  [[Orig. Op. Page 5]] necessarily indicate an alteration of the construction of the earlier act.  Indeed, the rule favoring the construction borne by the original statutes or sections is applied, even though in the course of revision or consolidation, the language may have been somewhat changed, and the revised or consolidated statutes will be construed as bearing the same meaning as the original statutes or sections, unless the language of the revision or consolidation plainly requires a change of construction to conform to the manifest intent of the legislature.  These rules are based upon the fact that the new language may be attributed to a desire to condense and simplify the law, or to improve the phraseology."

            If the language of the codifier be considered as his interpretation of the statute, the legislature's adoption of the change would appear to adopt that interpretation.  See 2 Sutherland, Statutory Construction, § 5109.

            Our conclusion is, then, that the phrase "a part of the voucher" would apply to a certificate in the prescribed form stamped upon or attached to the vendor's invoice as contemplated.  It is our opinion that the division of municipal corporations can legally approve the vouchering procedures about which you inquire.

            We trust that this information will be of assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

JOHN J. O'CONNELL
Attorney General

ROBERT F. HAUTH
Assistant Attorney General

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