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Bob Ferguson

AGLO 1976 No. 15 -
Attorney General Slade Gorton


Discussion of the respective responsibility of the department of labor and industries and the state board of electrical examiners in the process of licensing electrical contractors under RCW 19.28.120.

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                                                                February 24, 1976

Honorable George Sellar
State Senator, 12th District
416 Public Lands Building
Olympia, Washington 98504                                                                                                               Cite as:  AGLO 1976 No. 15

Dear Sir:

            By letter previously acknowledged you have requested our opinion regarding a phase of the procedure involved in licensing electrical contractors.  We paraphrase your general question as follows:

            What are the respective responsibilities of the Department of Labor and Industries of the State of Washington and the Board of Electrical Examiners in the process provided for licensing electrical contractors by RCW 19.28.120(1) and (2)?

            We answer this question in the manner set forth in our analysis.


            As you are aware, the provisions of chapter 19.28 RCW encompass in general the licensing of electrical contractors,1/ standards for electrical installations, and for inspection and other enforcement procedures.  The Department of Labor and Industries is charged with the overall responsibility for establishing and enforcing electrical standards according to the chapter.2/

             Similarly with regard to the subject matter of your question, the Department of Labor and Industries has overall responsibility under the provisions of chapter 19.28 RCW which deal with licensing of electrical contractors.  RCW 19.28.120(1) provides that:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            "It shall be unlawful for any person, firm, or corporation to engage in . . . the business of installing wires or equipment to convey electric current . . . without having an unrevoked, unsuspended and unexpiredlicense so to do, issued by the director of labor and industries. . ."  (Empahsis supplied.)

            This statute also expressly provides that application for such license shall be made in writing to the Department of Labor and Industries.  The application is to be accompanied by a certain conditioned bond or cash deposit or other negotiable security acceptable to the director.  The department must determine that applicants have fulfilled all prerequisites for a license.  RCW 19.28.120(1) also provides that:

            ". . .  The director of labor and industries shall issue general or specialty licenses to applicants meeting all of the requirements of this chapter. . . ."

            And, should any such requirements be violated after the license is issued, the legislature has granted to "The department [director] of labor and industries" the "power . . . to revoke, or suspend . . . any license issued under this chapter. . . ."  See RCW 19.28.310.

            The duties of the Board of Electrical Examiners are specifically set forth in RCW 19.28.123 which provides as follows:

            "There is hereby created a board of electrical examiners consisting of nine members to be appointed by the governor.  It shall be the purpose and function of this board to establish in addition to a general electrical contractors' license, such classifications of specialty electrical contractors' licenses as it deems appropriate with regard to individual sections pertaining to state adopted codes in chapter 19.28 RCW.  In addition, it shall be the purpose and function of this board to establish and administer written examinations for general electrical contractors' qualifying certificates.  Examinations shall be designed to reasonably insure that general and specialty electrical contractor's qualifying certificate holders are competent to engage in and supervise the work covered by this statute and their respective licenses.  The examinations shall include questions from the following categories to assure proper safety and protection for the general  [[Orig. Op. Page 3]] public:  (1) Safety, (2) state electrical code, and (3) electrical theory.  Meetings of the board shall be held quarterly on the first Monday of February, May, August and November of each year.  Each member of the board shall be paid a per diem of twenty-five dollars for each day or portion thereof that the board is in session and each member shall receive in addition thereto his necessary and reasonable transportation and other expenses as provided in chapter 43.03 RCW, which shall be paid out of the electrical license fund, upon vouchers approved by the director of labor and industries."

            The two functions thus specified are (1) the establishment of electrical contractors'license classifications and (2) the establishment and administration of writtenexaminations for electrical contractors' qualifying certificates.

            RCW 19.28.120(1) provides, in part:

            ". . .  The board of electrical examiners shall certify to the director of labor and industries all persons who are entitled to either a general or specialty electrical contractors' qualifying certificate. . . ."3/

             Ambiguity exists regarding the responsibility of the board in connection with certifying those entitled to electrical contractors' qualifying certificates because the statute, as amended in 1975 (Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 195, § 1) now provides two ways by which one may be entitled to a certificate.  As an alternate to passing a board examination, an applicant duly licensed in 1974 may obtain a certificate without examination.  The alternative provided is commonly referred to as a "grandfather clause."  RCW 19.28.120(2) states, in part:

            ". . .  To obtain such a certificate an individual shall pass an examination as set forth in RCW 19.28.123 or, alternately, the applicant was a duly licensed electrical contractor at any time during 1974.  As to those applicants who were duly licensed as electrical contractors  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] by the state of Washington at any time during 1974 such applicants shall be entitled to receive a general electrical contractor qualifying certificate without examination."

            It is entirely clear that the board is to certify those who are entitled to a qualifying certificate by virtue of passing the board examination.  In addition, since according to RCW 19.28.120(1) the board is to certify "all persons" entitled to certificates, it would also appear, at first blush, that the board is to certify those entitled to a certificate, without examination, by virtue of the grandfather clause provision.  But certification of an applicant entitled to a certificate without examination seems clearly inconsistent with the provisions of RCW 19.28.123 wherein the legislature expressly designated the board functions and provided only that the board was to establish license classifications and pertinent examinations‑-and administer the examinations.  So, considering the language in chapter 19.28 RCW as a whole, it is not at all clear that the legislature intended the board to assume the additional duty of determining application of the grandfather provision, unrelated to any of its expressly specified functions.  (Parenthetically, we understand that whether administration of the grandfather provision is within the scope of the board's particular authority regarding qualifying certificates rather than within the department's general responsibility for licensing applicants is the question which precipitated your opinion request.)

            It is of course a fundamental rule of statutory construction that statutes are to be construed so as to give effect to legislative intent and purpose "ascertained from the statutory text as a whole, . . ."  Guinness v. State, 40 Wn.2d 677, 679, 246 P.2d 433 (1952).  If ambiguity arises within a statute, the real intent of the legislature must be ascertained by considering all of the provisions of the act and "a construction must be adopted which is reasonable and in furtherance of the manifest purpose of the legislation."  Roza Irrigation Dist. v. State, 80 Wn.2d 633, 638, 497 P.2d 166 (1972).  InWeherhaeuser v. Dep't of Ecology, 86 Wn.2d 310, 321,    P.2d     (1976), our supreme court stated:

             [[Orig. Op. Page 5]]

            ". . .  Where there are two reasonable interpretations of statutory language, the interpretation which better advances the overall legislative purpose should be adopted:

            "Language within a statute must be read in context with the entire statute and construed in a manner consistent with the general purposes of the statute.

            "Nationwide Papers, Inc. v. Northwest Egg Sales, Inc., 69 Wn.2d 72, 76, 416 P.2d 687 (1966)."

            According to the terms of the statute it is clear that "certification" of applicants entitled to a certificate because of the grandfather proviso involves no decisions relevant to the fundamental purpose for which the Board of Examiners exists as specified by RCW 19.28.123.  The Board of Examiners' designated responsibilities in RCW 19.28.123 are to establish requisite classifications of electrical work and to establish and give appropriate examinations; both relate to determining individual competence to perform some type of electrical contractor work.  Under the grandfather proviso the appropriate applicant will be entitled to a certificate without examination (and be automatically entitled to ageneral qualifying certificate); the competence of applicants who fit within the grandfather proviso is simply to be presumed, or at least need not be proved.  Equally obvious, the issues which the statutory language requires to be determined in administration of the grandfather clause, i.e., the identity of the applicant within the terms of the grandfather clause and whether that applicant was duly licensed in 1974, do not at all relate to the responsibilities specified for the board.

            To be consistent with the express purpose for which the board was created, it seems more reasonable to conclude that the legislature meant the board to certify only those entitled to certificates because they passed a board examination.  Adopting a construction of the statute which would confine the board's authority and responsibility for certifying persons entitled to qualifying certificates to those who have passed an examination is clearly consistent with the legislature's intent when that phrase was originally added to RCW 19.28.120(1) by Laws of 1974, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 188, § 1.  In 1974 the only way one could be certified as entitled to a qualifying certificate was to have passed the board examination.

             [[Orig. Op. Page 6]]

            That the legislature, by RCW 19.28.123, outlined the board's purpose and function with such specificity seems to indicate its intent to limit the board's activity to those named tasks, or at least to duties clearly related to those specified.  The administration of the grandfather proviso involves issues far removed from those the legislature declared were the purpose of the board to resolve.  We would therefore expect the legislature to have specifically added that duty to the board's designated function if it wanted the Board of Examiners to become involved in determining those unrelated issues.  And we note that the addition of another function would not have been difficult since, in the same session in which the proviso was enacted, the legislature amended the provision outlining the functions of the board, enlarging it to take into account the new license classifications.  See Laws of 1975, 1st Ex. Sess., ch. 195, § 1.  Of course the legislature did not so expand its specifications of the board's responsibilities.  And, according to the accepted rules of statutory construction, we do not believe it either necessary or appropirate to infer an expansion which includes a change in the board's specified functions simply because the legislature provided that an applicant to whom the grandfather clause applies is entitled to a "qualifying certificate."

            Of course, the essential decision under the grandfather proviso, whether the applicant was duly licensed at any time during 1974, is particularly within the province of the department, since it is the department which issued, renewed, or revoked the licenses in 1974 as it does now.  See RCW 19.28.120 and 19.28.310.  And determination of the identify of the applicant intended to be encompassed by the grandfather proviso also seems quite appropriately within the department's authority for issuing licenses to applicants meeting all the chapter's requirements.  Therefore, in our opinion it is the Department of Labor and Industries, not the Board of Electrical Examiners, which has the responsibility to determine the application of the grandfather clause.

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

Very truly yours,

Attorney General

Assistant Attorney General

                                                         ***   FOOTNOTES   ***

1/Conversely, the licensing of electricians is the subject of chapter 18.37 RCW.

2/E.g., it is the director of the department who, after consulting with the electrical advisory board, is required to adopt rules and regulations in furtherance of safety to life and property (RCW 19.28.060).   Other provisions assigning to the department the basic responsibility for enforcing the standards and requirements of the act include RCW 19.28.010, 19.28.070, 19.28.120 and 19.28.310.

3/RCW 19.28.120(2) makes the electrical qualifying certificate a substantive requirement for a license:

            "From and after the effective date of this 1975 amendatory act to obtain a general or specialty contractor license the applicant must designate contractor certificate as a general electrical qualifying certificate as a general electrical contractor or as to the specialty electrical contractor license for which application has been made. . . ."