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December 2015


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.


1. Does state law require a particular oath of office for hospital district commissioners? If not, what wording is generally used?

Regarding the oath of office for an appointed (or newly elected) hospital district commissioner, RCW 70.44.040(1) provides that Title 29A RCW governs public hospital districts except as provided in chapter 70.44 RCW (which doesn't address oaths specifically). As required by RCW 29A.04.133(3), the oath of office "shall be administered and certified by any officer or notary public authorized to administer oaths, without charge therefor." Chapter 5.28 RCW governs oaths and affirmations generally, including how they are administered and variations on the form of the oath or affirmation.

We're not aware of required language for the oath of office specifically for hospital district commissioners. However, default language is in RCW 29A.04.133(3), which provides that if there is no oath specified by statute, the oath taken should state "that he or she will faithfully and impartially discharge the duties of the office to the best of his or her ability." The following are a couple of examples of oaths of office that may be of interest:

I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully and impartially and to the best of my ability, perform the duties of the office of __________, in accordance with the laws of the State of Washington, federal law, and all local resolutions and other applicable legal enactments.

I, __________, do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will comply with the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution and laws of the State of Washington, and all local resolutions and other applicable legal enactments, and that I will faithfully and impartially perform and discharge the duties of the office of __________, according to law and to the best of my ability.

We recommend that hospital districts consult with their district's legal counsel regarding such matters as well.

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2. Is there an RCW or WAC provision that describes how a public hospital district can obtain credit cards for business purposes? Is a resolution by the board required?

Local governments, including public hospital districts, are authorized by RCW 43.09.2855 to use credit cards for purchases. That statute provides that the legislative body of a local government, if it desires to use credit cards for purchases, must "adopt a system" for such, with certain required elements. It does not specify what form that action adopting a system for using credit cards must take.

Note, too, that RCW 42.24.115 authorizes "[a]ny municipal corporation or political subdivision" - which would include a hospital district - to issue credit cards to officers and employees for travel expenses, but it also does not specify any particular procedure for doing so.

In general, RCW 70.44.050 requires that the business of a hospital district board is to be conducted by resolution or motion. So, we think the board may adopt a system for using credit cards, as authorized by RCW 43.09.2855, either by resolution or motion. If approved by resolution, the resolution should specify the "system" for using credit cards. If approved by motion, the motion should approve a written policy that describes the "system" for using credit cards.

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 3. Is a public hospital district required to adopt a set of bylaws for the board?

The hospital district statute, chapter 70.44 RCW, doesn't specifically refer to "bylaws." However, a provision in that chapter, RCW 70.44.050, provides, in part (emphasis added):

The commission [board of commissioners] shall organize by election of its own members of a president and secretary, shall by resolution adopt rules governing the transaction of its business and shall adopt an official seal.

So, presuming that the "set of bylaws for the board" that you refer to are the rules governing the transaction of commission business called for in RCW 70.44.050, the board of commissioners is required to adopt those rules/bylaws by resolution.

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4. When a municipality, such as a public hospital district, is governed by a nonpartisan commission (or council), is there any legal prohibition of political parties from taking an active role in supporting or opposing those nonpartisan candidates? Can parties contribute money? Can they (as a party) endorse candidates? Are there any restrictions on parties?

There are campaign contribution limits under RCW 42.17A.405 that apply to candidates for a variety of local government offices, including candidates for hospital district board of commissioners in districts with a population over 150,000. See, RCW 42.17A.405(1)(h). Given that RCW 42.17A.405 specifies the types of candidates to whom such limits apply, our presumption is that such limits don't apply to other types of local government candidates, such as candidates for hospital district board of commissioners in districts with a population of 150,000 or less.

In the past regarding similar issues, we have contacted the Washington State Public Disclosure Commission (PDC), which implements and interprets the administrative rules in our state related to such matters. The PDC has an online matrix of contribution limits that details such limits for various local governments. The current matrix of contribution limits has an effective date of January 5, 2014.

That matrix includes specific reference to King County Public Hospital Districts Nos. 1 and 2, and Snohomish County Public Hospital District No. 2, as having contribution limits of particular amounts, based on the source of the contribution. Regarding your question about contributions from political parties, note that the "Contributors" on the matrix consist of the following categories, some of which specifically refer to party:

  • State Party
  • County or LD Party Committee
  • Caucus Political Committee (House or Senate)
  • Candidate Committees
  • PACs, Unions, Corps and other entities
  • Individuals
Note also that chapter 390-17 WAC includes various administrative provisions related to contribution limitations. For example, WAC 390-17-302 (contributions after the primary election) provides in part:

(2) For purposes of the contribution limit in RCW 42.17A.405 and 42.17A.410, any contribution made up to thirty days after the primary election pursuant to RCW 42.17A.405 and 42.17A.410 is aggregated with contributions made on or before the date of the primary from the same contributor and any person with whom that contributor shares a limit under RCW 42.17A.455 and WAC 390-16-309.

In addition to contributions, you asked about other allowable activities by parties to support or oppose a candidate for a nonpartisan office. Given the nuances involved with these issues, including related to the statutory and administrative provisions involved (such as those above, RCW 42.17A.555, and others), and given that the PDC is the agency that interprets these regulations, we recommend that you contact the PDC to get their current thinking on this matter in the context of the specific activity(ies) at issue.

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If you have comments for the newsletter editor, please contact Joe Levan, Legal Consultant.

Washington city, county, and public hospital district officials and members of the Washington Association of Sewer and Water Districts and Enduris (elected and/or staff) can call or email MRSC free of charge for advice and information on local government issues.

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