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Ask MRSC

December 2013

Ask MRSC

In the periodic Ask MRSC PHD (Public Hospital Districts) e-newsletter, MRSC consultants respond to questions posed by officials and staff of Washington public hospital districts. Submit your own question via our simple online form.

IN THIS ISSUE

  1. Would working on promotion of the Special Tax Levy that we're trying to pass fit the parameters of "official hospital district" duties?
  2. Must a hospital district board of commissioners be provided with documentation of claims for its approval of such claims after they have been paid pursuant to RCW 42.24.180?
  3. Regarding bonding capacity of a hospital district and the authority of the district to levy taxes that don't require voter approval, what is the limit to the amount that can be imposed by the district in relation to assessed valuation?
  4. I need MRSC's help to identify all of the various hospital signage requirements, such as related to: (1) EMTALA; (2) abandoned babies; (3) financial assistance (I think?); (4) nurse staffing information. Others? If you've got a cite for the requirements, please provide them.
  5. I was researching some information on the legal powers and limitations for public hospital district commissioners in the WAC's (Washington Administrative Code) and RCW's (Revised Code of Washington) but I couldn't find the specific text. Please advise chapter and verse regarding commissioners' duties, etc., per state law.

 

1. Would working on promotion of the Special Tax Levy that we're trying to pass fit the parameters of "official hospital district" duties?

A key statutory provision governing such ballot proposition (levy) situations is RCW 42.17A.555, which provides in part:

No elective official nor any employee of his or her office nor any person appointed to or employed by any public office or agency may use or authorize the use of any of the facilities of a public office or agency, directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition. Facilities of a public office or agency include, but are not limited to, use of stationery, postage, machines, and equipment, use of employees of the office or agency during working hours, vehicles, office space, publications of the office or agency, and clientele lists of persons served by the office or agency. However, this does not apply to the following activities: ...

Generally speaking, RCW 42.17A.555 prohibits, for example, use of a district facility, such as district-owned meeting room space, by district commissioners or employees, "directly or indirectly, for the purpose of assisting a campaign for election of any person to any office or for the promotion of or opposition to any ballot proposition." A local levy is a type of activity that is considered a ballot proposition.

However, there are several exceptions to this general prohibition, so it's important to review RCW 42.17A.555 in full to determine its applicability to the specific situation at issue. One of the exceptions applies to situations, for example, in which a board of commissioners has formally taken action at an open public meeting "to express a collective decision, or to actually vote upon a motion, proposal, resolution, order, or ordinance, or to support or oppose a ballot proposition," as long as certain other conditions are met. See, RCW 42.17A.555(1).

Two other exceptions under RCW 42.17A.555 are:

(2) A statement by an elected official in support of or in opposition to any ballot proposition at an open press conference or in response to a specific inquiry;

(3) Activities which are part of the normal and regular conduct of the office or agency.

We've found the State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC) to be a useful resource regarding such issues, including with respect to what specific types of campaign activities are permissible. A particularly helpful and detailed resource is the PDC publication, "Guidelines for Local Government Agencies in Election Campaigns" (revised May 22, 2013). The local guidelines publication is full of practical information and it covers the key issues and questions that generally arise in such situations.

For example, the local guidelines publication explains that a local government elected official (see p. 9):

  • May engage in political activities on his/her own time, if no public equipment, vehicle, or facility is used. (An elected official may use his/her title, but should clarify that he/she is speaking on his/her own behalf, and not on behalf of the agency. If the elected legislative body has adopted a resolution, the official can then speak on behalf of the agency.)
  • May attend any function or event at any time during the day and voice his/her opinion about a candidate or ballot proposition as long as they aren't being compensated and aren't using any public equipment, vehicle, or other facility.

But local elected officials:

  • Shall not direct agency staff to perform tasks to support or oppose campaign activities or ballot measures.
  • Shall not use public facilities or resources to engage in political activities.

Key questions are:

  • Is the elected official using staff time, a public vehicle, or other public resources?
  • Has the agency adopted a resolution? If yes, the elected official can speak on behalf of the agency. If not, has the elected official made it clear that he/she is not speaking on behalf of the agency?

Of interest may also be articles we prepared for our MRSC Insight blog regarding election issues, including Election Season "Dos and Don'ts," and Wearing Uniforms in Political Advertisements. We encourage you to sign-up for MRSC Insight (to do so, see the right side of the blog's homepage).

We also recommend, particularly in situations in which you are wondering about the PDC's interpretation of any of its rules, that you contact the PDC to get their latest thinking on the matter. We have found that the PDC staff is quite helpful in this regard, including, for example, Tony Perkins, Lead Political Finance Specialist for the PDC. Tony can be reached directly at (360) 586-1042 (or via email at Tony.Perkins@pdc.wa.gov).

 

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2. Must a hospital district board of commissioners be provided with documentation of claims for its approval of such claims after they have been paid pursuant to RCW 42.24.180?

More specifically, you explained and asked:

We present to our board of commissioners for their review, approval, and signature a monthly accounts payable listing/report of warrants and checks issued for services and equipment. As provided under RCW 42.24.180, such warrants and checks for services and equipment may be issued via the signature of the district's designated officer (CEO, CFO, COO), and before the board has approved those claims for payment. The CEO and CFO review these reports before submittal to the board. Accordingly, we have had the commissioners sign the listing of those warrants and checks as an indication of approval after the fact.

To assure our commissioners that the documents they are signing are accurate, it would seem that all the related support documents for the report (e.g., purchase orders, delivery invoices, vendor contracts, contractor invoices, time cards) should be provided as well. Rather than produce an involved process for our commissioners to wade through, are there other more expedited but legally acceptable approaches to this requirement available to hospital districts?

In response to your question, note that the authorization in RCW 42.24.180 for issuance of warrants or checks in payment of claims prior to the approval of the board of commissioners of those claims requires that all of the following conditions shall be met before the payment (emphasis added):

(1) The auditing officer and the officer designated to sign the checks or warrants shall each be required to furnish an official bond for the faithful discharge of his or her duties in an amount determined by the legislative body but not less than fifty thousand dollars;

(2) The legislative body shall adopt contracting, hiring, purchasing, and disbursing policies that implement effective internal control;

(3) The legislative body shall provide for its review of the documentation supporting claims paid and for its approval of all checks or warrants issued in payment of claims at its next regularly scheduled public meeting or, for cities and towns, at a regularly scheduled public meeting within one month of issuance; and

(4) The legislative body shall require that if, upon review, it disapproves some claims, the auditing officer and the officer designated to sign the checks or warrants shall jointly cause the disapproved claims to be recognized as receivables of the *taxing district and to pursue collection diligently until the amounts disapproved are collected or until the legislative body is satisfied and approves the claims.

*Reviser's note: "Taxing district" redesignated "local government" by 1995 c 301 § 15.

Given the emphasized language above, we recommend that the board have available to it the documentation supporting the payment of these claims. Even if the board doesn't actually review the documentation, we think the board should have the documentation available in case it decides to review documentation related to an individual case. As a practical matter, we advise this course of action because, otherwise, the board would have no real ability to disapprove any claim under subsection (4) of RCW 42.24.180.

 

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3. Regarding bonding capacity of a hospital district and the authority of the district to levy taxes that don't require voter approval, what is the limit to the amount that can be imposed by the district in relation to assessed valuation?

If the issue is the amount of the district's debt (bonding) capacity for non-voted (i.e., councilmanic or "boardmanic") bonds payable from taxes (as opposed to revenue bonds payable solely from revenue other than taxes), the provision that establishes the limit is RCW 39.36.020(2)(a)(i), which provides:

Public hospital districts are limited to an indebtedness amount not exceeding three-fourths of one percent of the value of the taxable property in such public hospital districts without the assent of three-fifths of the voters therein voting at an election held for that purpose.

Therefore, the limit for hospital districts regarding such "non-voted" general obligation debt is an amount not exceeding 0.75% of the value of the taxable property in the district. We also recommend that hospital districts confer with their district's bond counsel regarding such matters.

 

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4. I need MRSC's help to identify all of the various hospital signage requirements, such as related to: (1) EMTALA; (2) abandoned babies; (3) financial assistance (I think?); (4) nurse staffing information. Others? If you've got a cite for the requirements, please provide them.

In referring to "various hospital signage requirements," we presume what you're referring to are requirements related to posting signs or posters as required by law. As for specific signage posting requirements for public hospital districts, we recommend that you consult with your district's legal counsel regarding notice requirements that are unique to hospitals such as EMTALA, charity care, nurse staffing, etc., but we can assist on this matter from a municipal law perspective.

What comes immediately to mind in this context are requirements related to employment law. There is a helpful fact sheet entitled, Workplace Posters: Required and Recommended, prepared by the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries (L&I). The fact sheet provides a list of posters that Washington State and federal agencies require or recommend employers post in their places of business. The fact sheet also includes online resources and contact numbers for state agencies that issue posters.

Based on that fact sheet, employers in Washington State must post required posters where their employees can read them, and they must comply with other requirements. For example, one of the posters, entitled Your Rights as a Worker in Washington State, includes information on a range of laws, including the Washington Family Care Act, Federal Family and Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Washington Family Leave Act. The workplace posters fact sheet referenced above also includes reference to several poster requirements and how to get those posters, including the following:

Washington State

Department of Labor & Industries (required posters)

  • Job Safety and Health Law (F416-081-909)
  • Your Rights as a Worker (F700-074-909)
  • Notice to Employees - If a Job Injury Occurs (F242-191-909)

Or

  • Notice to Employees - Self-insured Businesses (F207-037-909) - (This poster is for self-insured businesses. All others use F242-191-909.)

Employment Security Department (required poster)

  • Unemployment Benefits poster (EMS 9874)
  • Church and Religious Organizations poster (UI07-0119)

Human Rights Commission (recommended poster)

  • Washington State Law Prohibits Discrimination in Employment 

 

United States

Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (required poster)

  • Equal Opportunity Employment is the Law (also covers Americans with Disabilities Act)

Department of Labor (required posters)

  • Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) Federal Minimum Wage Poster (WH Pub.1088)
  • Employee Polygraph Protection Act (WH Pub.1462)
  • Family and Medical Leave Act of 1993 (WH Pub.1420)
  • *Your Rights Under USERRA - The Uniformed Services Employment and Reemployment Rights Act (*Federal law requires employers to notify employees of their rights under USERRA; employers may meet this requirement by displaying this notice where they customarily place notices for employees.)

L&I also has a webpage entitled, Answers to questions about required workplace posters, that we recommend be reviewed because it includes additional information about signage requirements. For example, it explains:

7.  Is there a poster on the Washington minimum wage?

No. Minimum wage information is on the L&I website at www.Lni.wa.gov/WorkplaceRights/Wages/Minimum. There is a required federal minimum wage poster (see Question 6 for the link) [note: the link is to the fact sheet referenced above]. Although Washington employers are required to display the federal poster, they are required to pay the higher Washington minimum wage.

We recommend that you contact L&I if you have questions about the above mentioned requirements and posters. Also, please feel free to contact us at MRSC at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772 if you'd like to discuss this further.

 

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5. I was researching some information on the legal powers and limitations for public hospital district commissioners in the WAC's (Washington Administrative Code) and RCW's (Revised Code of Washington) but I couldn't find the specific text. Please advise chapter and verse regarding commissioners' duties, etc., per state law.

Regarding legal powers and limitations for public hospital district commissioners, the hospital district statute, chapter 70.44 RCW, provides the board of commissioners with rather broad authority in fulfilling that chapter's purpose "to own and operate hospitals and other health care facilities and to provide hospital services and other health care services for the residents of such districts and other persons." See, RCW 70.44.003. We think the most succinct articulation of those powers and limitations in chapter 70.44 RCW is provided in RCW 70.44.060. That provision begins with the statement:

All public hospital districts organized under the provisions of this chapter shall have power:

The power of hospital districts referenced above is generally the power of the board of commissioners acting on behalf of the district in implementing those powers and duties set forth in RCW 70.44.060. Most broadly stated, RCW 70.44.060(10) provides, in part, that the district has the power "to do all other things necessary to carry out the provisions of" chapter 70.44 RCW. We interpret this to mean that the board of commissioners, acting on behalf of the district, has the authority to do all things necessary to carry out the provisions of chapter 70.44 RCW, except as otherwise limited by the powers and duties set forth for the superintendent in RCW 70.44.080 (powers of superintendent) and RCW 70.44.090 (duties of superintendent), and/or as otherwise provided in state law.

With regard to limitations, commissioners and other officials for local governments in this state are subject to a variety of limitations but it's difficult to address such limitations in the abstract. For example, limitations are set forth through the Public Records Act (chapter 42.56 RCW), the Open Public Meetings Act (chapter 42.30 RCW), and the code of ethics for municipal officers (chapter 42.23 RCW). Chapter 42.17A RCW also includes several limitations, including related to use of public facilities for political purposes. See, e.g., RCW 42.17A.555.

Of interest on this topic may also be AWPHD's publication, Public Hospital District Commissioner Guide, if you haven't already reviewed it.

As we indicated, this inquiry is difficult to answer in the abstract but please feel free to call us at (206) 625-1300 or (800) 933-6772 if you'd like to discuss this matter further, including with respect to particular powers and/or limitations that you may be concerned about.

 

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