Courtesy of Microsoft Office.

By Barbara Mathews, CG®

The Records Access and Preservation Committee is tracking activities at both the federal and state level regarding records access. On all fronts, RPAC has good news to report.

At the State Level

Genealogists in a handful of states have been alert to the introduction of legislation that could restrict vital records access — legislation based on the 2011 Model Act and Regulations (for more on the Model Act, see my previous report).

  • Genealogists in the Texas Genealogical Society uncovered HB 3252. They sent alerts about the bill to every other genealogical society in the state of Texas. Members wrote to legislators and genealogists testified before the House Public Health Committee. The bill has died in committee.
  • Genealogists in Washington discovered legislation in committee. Their quick action meant that the restrictive legislation stalled in that committee.
  • Genealogists in Oregon testified before a legislative committee. They opposed longer restrictions for the release of vital records, as did archivists and other interest groups. Their efforts were successful, resulting in amendment 4 to HB 2093.
  • Genealogists in Connecticut found strong allies to assist in responding to bills to close death records for 100 years — records that have been open for 350 years. These bills were instigated out of concern for the feelings of the survivors and families of Newtown, Connecticut, following the December 14th shootings there. Newspaper reporters and publishers, the Freedom of Information Commission, and State Medical Examiner all spoke out against the closure bills. The committee hearing was covered by the Hartford Courant. RPAC and others wrote to the House Speaker asking that these extreme bills be tabled. This effort was successful. At the last minute, an amendment to an unrelated bill closed 911 tapes and crime scene photos. The New York Times published an editorial against the disturbing backroom process. The process, however, did result in a situation that settled the concerns of the Newtown families without changing 350 years of state policy.

While the Georgia State Archives was under the management of the Secretary of State, the archives saw massive layoffs and  access restrictions. Legislators moved the management of the archives over the University of Georgia System. The chancellor there advocated for better funding and things are improving. RPAC sent letters to members of state legislative committees in support of funding improvements and the management changes. See the blog posting for the Georgia State Archives, titled “More Good News from the Georgia State Archives.”

I was wearing my hat as a Civil Records Co-Director for the Massachusetts Genealogical Council when I attended the annual convention of the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS), an organization of state public health vital statistics offices. At the convention I was able to learn about the complexities of the jobs held by vital statistics registrars. In addition to their responsibilities for civil registration, the registrars are a part of the state public health efforts to produce the birth and death information used by the Centers for Disease Control’s National Center for Health Statistics. If I get a chance to blog about the concerns of state vital records registrars, I will post the links as follow-up comments to this post.

At the Federal Level

RPAC continues to monitor Capitol Hill legislation restricting access to the Social Security Death Index, which is the public version of the Death Master File. The bills introduced earlier this year are still under consideration by committees in the U.S. House and the Senate. Those bills were listed in one of my previous reports which you can see here.

It appears that all is poised to move forward this fall on Capitol Hill. RPAC expects legislation to be introduced in the U.S. Senate and committee hearings to take place in both the House and the Senate. In the meantime, Fred Moss of RPAC went to Washington, DC, to make the case that closure of the SSDI is now unnecessary. The misuse of the social security numbers of dead people is no longer an issue because genealogical websites voluntarily redacted numbers and because the IRS now monitors better.

During the Summer Recess (the month of August), our Congressmen and Senators will be back in their home states. RPAC sees this as a wonderful opportunity for genealogists to express their concerns to their House and Senate members. The step suggested by RPAC is that the president of each state’s umbrella or statewide genealogical society, together with a member of the Association of Professional Genealogists, schedule meetings with each member of the state’s federal delegation or their staff. In those meetings, they can discuss the concerns of genealogists. RPAC provides SSDI-Talking-Points-2013 for this discussion.

The Advocacy Committee of the Association of Professional Genealogists is monitoring records access issues. They have posted a list of recommended actions in regard to these bills before the U.S. Congress. You can read their recommendations here.

Please get in touch with me if you have any questions or concerns about records preservation or records access.