Washington State

Office of the Attorney General

Attorney General

Bob Ferguson

AGO 1953 No. 469 - Jan 19 1953
Attorney General Don Eastvold


The lieutenant governor of the state of Washington has no legal authority to act as presiding officer of the state senate nor to cast the deciding vote in the state senate during the period in which he is serving as acting governor.

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                                                                 January 19, 1953 

Mr. Fred Koch
Assistant to the Governor
Legislative Building
Olympia, Washington                                                                                                              Cite as:  AGO 51-53 No. 469

 Dear Sir:

             In your letter of January 16, 1953, you requested an opinion relative to the powers and duties of lieutenant governor as an officer and member of the senate during the period of time that he may be serving as acting governor in the absence from the state of the governor; more specifically, whether there are any conditions under which the lieutenant governor, during his tenure as acting governor, can legally participate in the business and voting of the senate.

             Our conclusion is that your inquiry should be answered in the negative.  When the lieutenant governor becomes acting governor of the state he assumes all the powers and duties of the governor and cannot function for that period of time as lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the state senate.  Our answer is based upon the following conclusion drawn from the law:


             Before resolving this question it is first necessary to state that the lieutenant governor is not a member of the state but merely the constitutional presiding officer of the state senate and his only participation in the affairs of the senate is restricted by the state constitution to casting the deciding vote in case of the equal division of the senate.  The lieutenant governor is, under the constitution, an executive officer of the state of Washington and cannot be a member of the legislature.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 2]]

            The particular question involved, however, resolves itself to an examination of the state constitution.  Article III of the state constitution establishes the executive branch of the state government and provides, among other state elective officers, the office of lieutenant governor.  Const. Art. III, § 16, provides for the powers and duties of lieutenant governor and specifies in substance that he shall be the presiding officer of the state senate and shall dischargesuch other duties as may be prescribed by law.  The constitution further provides that in the case of the removal, resignation, death, or disability of the governor, the duties shall devolve upon the lieutenant governor.

             We therefore find, in the absence of any additional statutory duties, that the lieutenant governor's duties are limited to presiding over the state senate, voting on matters when there is an equal division in the senate (Const. Art. II, § 10), and succeeding the governor in the event of a vacancy in the office of the governor.  The legislature has, however, based upon the delegation of the powers given it by the constitution, from time to time imposed additional duties upon the lieutenant governor.  These additional duties have consisted mainly of naming the lieutenant governor as a member of commissions and interim committees.  The state legislature, however, specifically provided, in chapter 20, Laws of 1890 (RCW 43.06.040 and 43.06.050) additional duties of the governor, to-wit, if the governor absents himself from the state, he shall, prior to his departure, notify the lieutenant governor of his proposed absence, and during his absence the lieutenant governor shall perform all the duties of the governor.

             RCW 43.06.050 provides as follows:

            "Every provision of law in relation to the powers and duties of the governor, and in relation to acts and duties to be performed by others towards him, extends to the person performing for the time being the duties of governor."

             These are additional duties imposed upon the lieutenant governor under powers directly delegated by the legislature in Article III, § 16, of the state constitution.  Under RCW 43.06.050 it logically follows that the lieutenant governor assumes all of the duties, powers, and prerogatives of the governor while he so acts, but on the other hand he can obviously have no greater power or duty than that of qualified governor.  The governor's duties do not include that of presiding over the senate.

              [[Orig. Op. Page 3]]

            The state constitution, in addition to providing specifically in Art. III, § 16, the duties of the lieutenant governor, provided that if the lieutenant governor was not able to perform his primary duty, i.e., that of presiding over the senate, the provision is then made, under Const. Art. II, § 10, that when the lieutenant governor shall not attend as president or act as governor the senate shall choose a temporary presiding officer.  The state senate, in conformance with this provision of the constitution, has, from its first session, chosen from its members a president of the senate who presides in the absence of the lieutenant governor, the constitutional presiding officer (Rule 7, Senate Rules, 1951).  The question of the possibility of the lieutenant governor serving in a dual capacity as acting governor and presiding officer of the senate has been indirectly ruled upon by the state supreme court in an early case, State ex rel. Murphy v. McBride, 29 Wash. 335.  This case involved other matters not pertinent to the particular issues here involved, but in this case the relator argued that the then acting governor was also lieutenant governor and presiding officer of the senate and as such was in the position of approving bills passed by the senate, and as governor of reviewing, approving, or rejecting such bills which, as lieutenant governor, he has already approved.  The court, to answer this argument, stated, at page 340:

             ". . . These duties are, no doubt, inconsistent; but this argument, we think, is fully met by another provision of the constitution, which provides at § 10, Art 2, in substance, that when the lieutenant governor shall act as governor the senate shall choose a temporary president.  The lieutenant governor, therefore, when the duties of governor devolve upon him, is relieved of the duties of presiding officer of the senate."

             This case, however, from the factual point of view, may not be conclusive.  The governor had died and the lieutenant governor, under the provision of the constitution, had succeeded him.

             The state supreme court, however, in a later case,State ex rel. Meyers v. Reeves, 194 Wash. 503, 78 P. (2d) 590, by dicta, passed upon the duties and powers of the constitutional state officers as acting governor in the absence of the duly elected and qualified governor from the State of Washington.  The  [[Orig. Op. Page 4]] court there, by dicta, upheld the authority of the state legislature to pass chapter 20, Laws of 1890 (RCW 43.06.050) which gave additional duties to the lieutenant governor and also the authority of the lieutenant governor or other state officials, in the absence of the governor or ranking state official, to act with the same powers and prerogatives as the governor of the state during his absence.

             It is therefore the conclusion of this office that when the lieutenant governor is acting as governor of the state of Washington, in the absence from the state of the duly elected and qualified governor, he cannot also act in the capacity of presiding officer of the senate.

 Very truly yours,
Attorney General

Chief Assistant
Attorney General