Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1971 No. 78 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton

- - - - - - - - - - - - -
                                                                   June 11, 1971
Honorable A. Ludlow Kramer
Secretary of State
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington 98501                                                                       Cite as:  AGLO 1971 No. 78 (not official)
Dear Sir:
            This will acknowledge receipt of your letter of June 7, 1971, requesting our opinion on the following questions regarding initiative measures under Article II, § 1 (Amendment 7) of our state constitution:
            "1. Can two or more subjects be incorporated into one initiative to the people or to the legislature?
            "2. If the answer to question #1 is in the negative, by what methods or standards are the limits of a single subject measured?
            "3. Can the initiative method be used to prohibit subdivisions of the State Legislature (such as committees, interim committees, and councils) from holding meetings closed to the public?
            "4. Can the initiative method be used to establish a limitation on the length of time any person may serve in an elective office?
            "5. Would it be legally permissible to circulate an initiative petition for signatures by publishing it as a portion of a newspaper?"
            The first of these five questions was only recently considered, and answered in the affirmative, in AGO 1971 No. 5, copy enclosed.  See, in particular, page 14 thereof, and the case of Senior Citizens League Inc. v. Dept. of Soc. Sec., et al., 38 Wn.2d 142, 228 P.2d 478 (1951), cited thereon.  Of course, such affirmative answer to this question renders any further consideration of your second question, as set forth above, unnecessary.
             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]
            Likewise, your fourth and fifth questions have also been the subjects of previous opinions.  In the case of question four, relating to the use of an initiative as a means of establishing limitations upon the length of time any person may serve in an elective office, see our opinion of May 7, 1971, to State Representative Paul Kraabel, copy enclosed.  Although this opinion was, by its terms, limited to persons holding legislative offices, its reasoning would very definitely be applicable to any attempt by initiative to limit the terms of any other state officers whose terms and qualifications are prescribed by the constitution.1/   As for question five, regarding the circulation of initiative petitions through publication as a portion of a newspaper, we would refer you to our opinion of August 18, 1964, to then State Senator A. L. Rasmussen, copy enclosed, wherein this matter was considered and discussed at some length.  Although it was indicated therein that the secretary of state's office was then considering the submission of further facilitating legislation, we are not aware of any subsequent enactments in this area.2/
             Finally, in so far as question three is concerned, we would make three separate points at the outset:  First, as we have previously advised you, the initiative is not available in this state as a means of proposing an amendment to our state Constitution.  See, opinion to you [[to Secretary of State]]dated February 20, 1970, copy enclosed.3/   However, secondly, as also indicated in this 1970 opinion, the fact that an initiative may  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] not be used as a means of proposing an amendment to the constitution does not mean that it is not available to propose a "mere" statute which might or might not be upheld by the courts against a constitutional challenge should it be adopted by the voters and enacted into law.  And thirdly, in the event that an initiative in proper form (proposing a "mere" statute rather than a constitutional amendment) should be proffered to you for filing,4/ it must be understood that you, as the secretary of state, would have no authority to refuse to accept the filing solely on the basis that the law thereby proposed might not be constitutional.  See, State ex rel. O'Connell v. Kramer, 73 Wn.2d 85, 436 P.2d 786 (1968).
            Beyond advising you in these three respects, our response to your third question ‑ regarding the constitutionality of an initiative ". . . to prohibit subdivisions of the State Legislature . . . from holding meetings closed to the public" ‑ must at this time be somewhat generalized, in the absence of a specific proposal to be examined and analyzed.  Suffice it to say that the only constitutional obstacle to such an initiative would be Article II, § 9 of our state constitution which provides that:
            "Each house may determine the rules of its own proceedings, . . ."
            Because we are inclined to view this provision as being limited, by its own terms, to the proceedings of each individual house solely during a legislative session, we doubt that it would invalidate an initiative aimed at regulating the activities of legislative committees or councils operating during periods between legislative sessions.5/   However, it probably would pose a substantial barrier to any attempt, by "mere" statute (or initiative) to reach and limit or otherwise affect the proceedings of standing committees of either of the two houses during a session.  Thus, the sponsors of any initiative containing  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] such a section (among others) would probably be well advised to also include a severability clause designed to preserve the constitutionality of the remainder if this section should be successfully challenged following enactment.

            We trust the foregoing will be of assistance to you.
Very truly yours,
Philip H. Austin
Deputy Attorney General
                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***
1/Of the various state officers who are elected by the people for fixed terms, only one, the insurance commissioner, is presently a purely statutory rather than a constitutional officer.  See, RCW 48.02.010.  Accordingly, it would follow that in the case of this office alone, an initiative might well be effective to limit the number of consecutive terms of office for which a particular individual might be eligible, or to otherwise establish statutory qualification for the office in question.
2/It is true that § 32, chapter 138, Laws of 1913 ‑ referred to on pp. 4-5 of this opinion as prohibiting payments for circulation of petitions as well as for soliciting or procuring signatures ‑ no longer refers to circulation in its recodified form (§ 29.79.490, chapter 9, Laws of 1965); however, in accordance with § 29.98.010 of this 1965 recodification, no intent to change any substantive law is to be drawn from such a change in language as this.
3/Accord, Ford v. Logan, 79 W.D.2d 147 [[79 Wn.2d 147]](1971); also, of course, this constituted the basis for our opinion to Representative Kraabel of May 7, 1971, supra.
4/See, RCW 29.79.020, et seq.
5/See, State ex rel. Hamblen v. Yelle, 29 Wn.2d 68, 185 P.2d 723 (1947); and State ex rel. Robinson v. Fluent, 30 Wn.2d 194, 191 P.2d 241 (1948), regarding such interim committees.