Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1977 No. 52 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


While the Governor may, in view of the defeat of Referendum No. 40 at the November 8, 1977, general election, terminate the Washington State Women's Council (which was created by an earlier executive order), she is not legally required to do so; instead, she may alternatively elect to continue the Council in existence and permit it to be funded from the legislative appropriation made specifically for use by the Women's Council during the 1977-79 biennium.

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                                                               November 14, 1977

Honorable Claude L. Oliver
State Representative
302 S. Reed
Kennewick, Washington 99336                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1977 No. 52

Dear Sir:

            This is in response to your recent request for our opinion on the following question:

            "In view of the negative vote cast on Referendum 40 resulting in the repeal of SHB 449, can the Governor continue the Washington State Women's Council in existence with the budget appropriation of $198,000?"

            We answer the foregoing question in the affirmative.


            The Washington State Women's Council, as you know, is not a statutory agency but, instead, was created several years ago as an informal division within the Governor's Office by executive order.  See, AGLO 1973 No. 52 [[to Joe Stortini, State Senator, on May 21, 1973, an Informal Opinion, AIR-73552]], copy enclosed.  In apparent recognition of its existence the 1977 legislature, by § 19, Chapter 339, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess., made the following appropriation for the 1977-79 biennium:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "FOR THE WASHINGTON STATE WOMEN'S COUNCIL General Fund Appropriation   $  198,000
            Total Appropriation          $  198,000"

            During the same session, however, the legislature also passed a bill establishing a statutory Washington State Women's Commission, also within the Office of the Governor, to replace the Women's Council.  See, House Bill No. 449, since designated as Chapter 288, Laws of 1977, 1st Ex. Sess., § 2 of which provided as follows:

            "There is established a Washington state women's commission in the office of the governor.  Upon the effective date of this act, the Washington state women's commission shall replace the Washington state women's council, and all equipment, files, and records of the council shall be transferred to the commission."

            In addition, the legislature made the following appropriation for this proposed new statutory agency by § 11 of Chapter 288, supra:

            "To carry out the provisions of this act there is appropriated to the Washington state women's commission from the general fund for the biennium ending June 30, 1979, the sum of two thousand dollars, or so much thereof as shall be necessary."

            In accordance with the provisions of Article II, § 41 (Amendment 26) of the state constitution, this legislative enactment was scheduled to take effect on September 21, 1977.1/   Prior to that date, however, a referendum petition was filed against the law in the manner provided for by Article II, § 1 (Amendment 7) of the constitution and a sufficient number of voters' signatures were obtained to qualify the referendum for placement on the ballot at the November 8, 1977, state  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] general election.  As a result, the provisions of Chapter 288, supra, went into suspense.  Wynand v. Dept. of Labor & Ind., 21 Wn.2d 805, 153 P.2d 302 (1944).  Then, at that election, it was overwhelmingly defeated by the voters.

            By your question you have asked whether, in view of that electoral result, the Governor may ". . . continue the Washington State Women's Council in existence with the budget appropriation of $198,000?" ‑ and our answer, as a matter of law, is in the affirmative.  Simply stated, the sole legal significance of the defeat of Referendum 40 was the veto by the voters of the legislature's proposal to replace the Women's Council, as established by the Governor, with a statutory Women's Commission.  The voters have not, in addition, vetoed either the executive order by which the Council was established (because the constitutional right of referendum only applies with respect to acts of the legislature) or the 1977 appropriation for the Council contained in Chapter 339, supra (because that act of the legislature was not before them and, in any event, appropriations are not generally subject to referendum.2/   Therefore, while the Governor is most certainly free to read a political message as well into the voters' action and, in response, either abolish the Women's Council or modify its functions or composition by a further executive order, it is our opinion that until and unless she does so its legal status will remain as before.  This means, in turn, that the Council may also continue (so long as it remains in existence) to draw upon the $198,000 appropriation which was made specifically for its use during the 1977-79 biennium by § 19, Chapter 339, supra ‑ subject also, of course, to the Governor's instructions, if any.3/

             [[Orig. Op. Page 4]]

            We trust that the foregoing will be of some assistance to you.

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Deputy Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Article II, § 41 (Amendment 26) provides, in material part, that

            "No act, law, or bill subject to referendum shall take effect until ninety days after the adjournment of the session at which it was enacted. . . ."

2/See, e.g.,State ex rel. Helm v. Kramer, 82 Wn.2d 307, 510 P.2d 1110 (1973).

3/Since the appropriation was made directly to the Women's Council (and not to the Governor for the Council), the Governor may not herself reduce it except pursuant to the applicable provisions of the budget and accounting act and/or § 163 of Chapter 339, supra, itself.  However, since the Governor can (as above explained) wholly abolish the Council at any time she most certainly may achieve the same objective (if she desires to do so) by suggesting a lesser dollar amount above which its expenditures should not go and then proceeding to exercise her power of termination if any such instructions are not heeded.