North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
North Carolina Department of Justice
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REPLY TO: Edwin M. Speas, Jr.

(919) 716-6400 FAX: (919) 716-0135

November 18, 2002

Sabra J. Faires Assistant Secretary for Tax Administration Department of Revenue Revenue Building Raleigh, North Carolina

Re: Advisory Opinion; G.S. 105-259(b); SL 2002-190; Access of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety to tax information

Dear Ms. Faires:

Chapter 190 of the 2002 Session Laws (HB 314) transfers the Division of Motor Vehicles Enforcement Section from the Department of Transportation to the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. That transfer is effective January 1, 2003. SL 2002159, Sec. 31.5. As a part of this transfer the General Assembly specifically amended a series of statutes to substitute the term “Department of Crime Control and Public Safety” for the term “Division of Motor Vehicles of the Department of Transportation” and for closely related terms. SL 2002-190, Sec. 2. G.S. 105-259(b)(7) is not included in this series of statutes. That statute establishes a limited exception from the general prohibition against the disclosure of tax information for the “exchange of information with the Division of Motor Vehicles of the Department of Transportation or the International Fuel Tax Association Inc., when the information is needed to fulfill a duty imposed on the Department of Revenue or the Division of Motor Vehicles.” Officers or employees of the State who violate the prohibition against the disclosure of tax information are subject to significant sanctions including dismissal from employment. G.S. 105-259(c).

The failure of the General Assembly to include G.S. 105-259(b)(7) in the series of specific statutes for which the term “Department of Crime Control and Public Safety” has been substituted for the term “Division of Motor Vehicles of the Department of Transportation,” together with the significant penalties prescribed for the unauthorized disclosure of tax information, has prompted you to seek our opinion about whether G.S. 105-259(b)(7) remains a viable exception to the general prohibition against disclosure of tax information.

We are satisfied that the General Assembly intended that G.S. 105-259(b)(7) should remain a viable exception to the general prohibition against disclosure of tax information and that the failure of the General Assembly to list G.S. 105-259 (b)(7) in the series of Sabra J. Faires November 18, 2002 Page 2

specifically amended statutes has no legal significance. Section 1 of Chapter 190 of the 2002 Session provides in pertinent part as follows:

The Department of Crime Control and Public Safety shall be considered a continuation of the transferred portion of the Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles Enforcement Section, for the purpose of succession to all rights, powers, duties, and obligations of the Enforcement Section and of those rights, powers, duties, and obligations exercised by the Department of Transportation, Division of Motor Vehicles on behalf of the Enforcement Section. Where the Department of Transportation, the Division of Motor Vehicles, or the Enforcement Section, or any combination thereof are referred to by law, contract, or other document, that reference shall apply to the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

The import of these words in light of the purpose of Chapter 190 seems clear: they reflect a legislative direction generally to substitute all statutory references that place the DMV Enforcement Section in the Department of Transportation with references that place that Section in the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. Consistent with this legislative direction it is our opinion that effective January 1, 2003, the Department of Revenue should administer G.S. 105-259(b)(7) as if it reads: “To exchange information with Motor Vehicles Enforcement Section of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety or the International Fuel Tax Association Inc. when the information is needed to fulfill a duty imposed on the Department of Revenue or the Motor Vehicles Enforcement Section of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.” Administration of this statute in this manner should protect Department of Revenue employees from the severe penalties prescribed for the unauthorized release of tax information.

We recognize that the words of Section 1 are broad enough to allow G.S. 105259(b)(7) to be read as follows: “To exchange information with the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety or the International Fuel Tax Association, Inc. when the information is needed to fulfill a duty imposed on the Department of Revenue or the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.” That reading, however, would expand the scope of the exception in G.S. 105-259(b)(7) beyond its present boundaries -- from sharing information regarding the enforcement of the motor fuels taxes to sharing information regarding the many law enforcement duties of the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety. Because the central purpose of Chapter 190 is to place the Enforcement Section in the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety and to continue and preserve its powers and duties in that context, and not to broaden them, we would recommend against that expansive reading. See e.g. State v. Blackstock, 314 N.C. 232, 333 S.E.2d 245 (1985) (words of a statute should be construed consistent with its purpose).

Sabra J. Faires November 18, 2002 Page 3

We trust that our views will be of assistance to the Department of Revenue and the Department of Crime Control and Public Safety.

Very truly yours,

Edwin M. Speas, Jr. Chief Deputy Attorney General

EMSjr/sf

cc: Secretary Beatty