Unofficial Opinion 2006-2
Stephens County Attorney
The documentation requirement in O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22, as amended, does not prevent a governmental unit from seeking reimbursement after July 1, 2003, for the training of a peace officer hired before July 1, 2003.
You have asked for my opinion whether the 2003 amendment to O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22 prohibits a demanding governmental unit from recovering reimbursement for a peace officer’s training expenses when the peace officer was hired before the effective date of the amendment and therefore has not signed an acknowledgment or employment contract as now required by the Code section. For the reasons set out below, it is my unofficial opinion that it does not.
As originally enacted at 1992 Ga. Laws 1325, 1326, § 2, O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22 provided the legal authority for the State of Georgia or any county or municipality to seek reimbursement for a peace officer’s training expenses when the officer is provided training by one agency and then leaves that agency and is hired by another agency. The statute provided, in pertinent part, as follows:
Unless otherwise provided by an employment contract to the contrary, if the State of Georgia or any county or municipality thereof employs a peace officer and said peace officer is hired by another agency within 15 months after completing mandated or formalized training requirements, then the total expense of training, including salary paid during training, shall be reimbursed by the hiring agency or the peace officer to the State of Georgia or any county or municipality which initially paid for such training. If said officer is hired by another agency during a period of 15 to 24 months after mandated or formalized training requirements are completed, then one-half of the total expense of training, including salary paid during training, shall be reimbursed by the hiring agency or the peace officer to the State of Georgia or any county or municipality thereof which initially paid for such training.
1992 Ga. Laws 1325, 1326, § 2. The purpose of the Act is to provide a statutory means for compensating an agency that has borne the expense of training a peace officer only to see that officer hired soon thereafter by another agency.1
The General Assembly amended O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22 in 2003 and, among other changes,2 added subsection (c). 2003 Ga. Laws 327, 328, § 1. Subsection (c) requires documentation that the “peace officer in question signed an acknowledgement of the terms of this Code section or an employment contract specifying the provisions of this Code section” before a governmental unit may demand reimbursement. O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22(c).
The question is whether an agency can seek reimbursement for training expenses it has incurred to train a peace officer who was hired before the 2003 amendment’s documentation requirements became effective, July 1, 2003, and then hired by another agency after that date. Before the effective date of the amendment there was no such documentation requirement, hence no reason for a hiring agency to take any steps to document that the newly hired peace officer was aware of the statutory reimbursement mechanism that could be triggered in the event the peace officer left the agency’s employ prematurely. In other words, if providing proof of documentation is required even for those peace officers hired before the statute was enacted, then the General Assembly has imposed a condition impossible of performance.
“In the interpretation of a statute the courts must look diligently for the intention of the General Assembly. . . . This is the cardinal rule in the construction of statutes, and the intention when ascertained must be carried into effect. . . . The construction must square with common sense and sound reasoning.” Blalock v. State, 166 Ga. 465, 470 (1928). The General Assembly has codified this rule of construction, providing that “[i]n all interpretations of statutes, the courts shall look diligently for the intention of the General Assembly, keeping in view at all times the old law, the evil, and the remedy.” O.C.G.A. § 1 3 1(a). See also City of Roswell v. City of Atlanta, 261 Ga. 657, 657 (1991); City of Jesup v. Bennett, 226 Ga. 606, 608 (1970).
As stated in the original Act itself, the intent in enacting O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22 was to provide for the reimbursement of training expenses when a peace officer is provided training by one agency and then leaves that agency’s employment and is hired by another agency. Nothing in the 2003 amendment evidences an intent to prevent an agency from seeking reimbursement for its costs in training a peace officer who soon thereafter leaves for another agency; the amendment simply adds a condition precedent – documentation of notice to the officer of the statutory reimbursement requirements – to seeking reimbursement after July 1, 2003.
The General Assembly did not intend to, and did not, eliminate the reimbursement of training expenses for the original hiring agency by enacting the 2003 amendment. The essential purpose of the statute remains unchanged: to provide a reimbursement mechanism. To find that the amended Act imposes a condition precedent that is impossible of performance would result in divesting governmental agencies of their ability to seek remuneration, the very thing the statute was enacted to do.
Reinforcing that conclusion is the “golden rule” of statutory construction, which requires a court to “follow the literal language of the statute ‘unless it produces contradiction, absurdity or such an inconvenience as to insure that the legislature meant something else.’” Telecom USA v. Collins, 260 Ga. 362, 363 (1990) (quoting Dep’t of Transp. v. City of Atlanta, 255 Ga. 124, 137 (1985) (Clarke, J., concurring)). It would produce an absurdity to conclude that the legislature intended to impose a condition precedent to reimbursement upon governmental units who clearly could not comply with that condition. See Sirmans v. Sirmans, 222 Ga. 202, 204 (1966). Furthermore, “[s]tatutes generally receive prospective rather than retrospective application.” Undercofler v. Swint, 111 Ga. App. 117, 119 (1965). To read into the statute a requirement that the hiring agency document notice to the peace officer before the statute came into existence would frustrate the clear intent and purpose of the overall scheme of the reimbursement statute. The only logical reading of the statute consistent with the intent of the General Assembly is that the requirement of a “signed . . . acknowledgement of the terms of this Code section or an employment contract specifying the provisions of this Code section” as imposed by O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22 (c) applies only to those peace officers hired after July 1, 2003.
Therefore, it is my unofficial opinion that the documentation requirement in O.C.G.A. § 35 8 22, as amended, does not prevent a governmental unit from seeking reimbursement after July 1, 2003, for the training of a peace officer hired before July 1, 2003.
MARY BETH WESTMORELAND
Deputy Attorney General
1 The title of the Act states among its purposes “to provide for reimbursement by a new employer of a peace officer or for reimbursement by the peace officer to a municipality or county or the state which initially paid for the peace officer’s mandated of formalized training.” 1992 Ga. Laws 1325.
2 Subsection (a) also was amended to delete the provision that reimbursement could be sought from the peace officer; under the current language of the statute, as amended in 2003, reimbursement may be sought only from the hiring agency.