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Keeping Watch Over Massachusetts Public Records

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Massachusetts Bills of Interest to Genealogists Filed in the 2013-2014 Legislative Session

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MGC Civil Records Co-Director Mary Ellen Grogan is our watchdog for bills in the Massachusetts legislature on Beacon Hill. She summarizes the situation here.

The Massachusetts Genealogical Council monitors legislative and administrative activities of governmental agencies which affect genealogists and family history researchers. We sponsor and support legislation designed to expand the resources and accessibility of research services; and, where appropriate, we oppose laws and regulations which limit or close access to records.

In the last ten years, significant efforts have been made on both state and federal levels to close records that have been traditionally used by genealogists. The impetus behind these efforts is not completely clear, but arguments center on issues of privacy. In most cases, closure of records to genealogists is not the result of actual legislation but of local regulations and the interpretation of these issues by records custodians. HIPAA, the Patriot Act, and identity theft have all been cited as requiring record closures. It is vital to genealogists that they actively work to prevent further closure of records by educating legislators and custodians on the needs of citizens, and working with these leaders proactively. It is to the benefit of legislators, record custodians and genealogists that we work together on these issues.

IMPORTANT WEBSITES

Who Are My Elected Officials?: http://www.wheredoivotema.com
Identifies Massachusetts elected officials, and gives their contact information

Lawmaking in Massachusetts: http://www.sec.state.ma.us/trs/trslaw/lawidx3.htm
A very detailed description of the legislative process in Massachusetts.

Massachusetts General Court: http://www.malegislature.gov
This site gives access to a search engine (by individual word and number) of current law and proposed bills.

Massachusetts Genealogical Council: http://www.massgencouncil.com
Provides information on national and state issues of interest to genealogists

 

 

BILLS FILED IN THE CURRENT SESSION THAT WE ARE MONITORING

Subject: Vital Records

S1474, Sen. Donnelly, An Act providing non-certified copies of record. Filed at the request of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, this bill would permit non-certified copies of vital records.

Section 19 of Chapter 46 of the General Laws, as appearing in the General Laws, is hereby amended by adding the following section:

“Section 19D: The custodians of birth, marriage, and death records will provide non-certified copies of records on plain paper rather than safety paper. These copies will be marked "for research purposes only, not to be used as evidence." The cost will be 20% of the cost of a certified copy.”

H1948, Rep. Ferguson, An Act to Protect Personal Information. Closes access to all birth records except to certain designated people; no time limit is placed on the closure.

H2034, Rep. Miceli, An Act Relative to Birth Records, also filed in last session, opposed by the Massachusetts Genealogical Council. Will close access to birth records except for certain categories of requestors; no time limit on the closure.

H2038, Rep. Murphy, An Act relative to proper identification when requesting copies of birth certificates

H2052, Rep. Poirier, An Act preserving dates of birth from city and town records

H2054, Rep. Poirer, An Act relative to access to certain birth records

 

Subject: Open Records/Public Records

S727, Sen. Eldridge, An Act defining certain administrative records as public records

S1459, Sen. Brownberger, An Act expanding the definition of public records to include subordinate entities of public entities

S1473, Sen. Donnelly, An Act relative to records open to public inspection. Filed at the request of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council, this bill clarifies that all records in the custody of the Secretary of State (i.e., State Archives) which are more than 90 years old are considered public records and are open to the public and opens other records.

Section 7 of Chapter 66 of the General Laws, is hereby amended by adding the following sentence: “All records in the custody of the state secretary which are ninety years or older shall be open to public inspection.” Section 2A of Chapter 46 of the General Laws is hereby amended by striking out, in the first sentence, the words “children born out of wedlock or ”and “or those of persons born out of wedlock”. Subsection 26c of Section 7 of chapter 4 of the General Laws is hereby amended by inserting after the word "information” the following words: of living people; and by inserting after the word “named” the following word: living.

S1480, Sen. Eldridge, An Act enhancing access to electronic public records

S1481, Sen. Eldridge, An Act improving access to public records

S1519, Sen. Moore, An Act to promote the timely release of public records

S1520, Sen. Ives, An Act relative to obtaining information

H1235, Rep. Cabral, An Act defining court administrative records as public records

H1294, Rep. DiZoglio, An Act relative to public records requests

H1603, Rep Scaccia, An Act relative to the supervision of public records

H2782, Rep. Cabral, An Act to enhance access to electronic public records

H2787, Rep. Cabral, An Act further regulating access to public records

H2819, Reps. Hill and Jones, An Act relative to public records fines

H2846, Rep. Kocot, An Act to improve access to public records

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Polly FitzGerald Kimmitt is a Board-certified genealogist specializing in Massachusetts research. She has been taking clients for sixteen years and researches a variety of topics from Mayflower lineages to locating townlands of Irish immigrants. She is a case worker under contract to the US Army on repatriation cases, helping to locate family members of servicemen missing or killed in previous conflicts. She currently serves as a director at Federation of Genealogical Societies (FGS), and editor of the FGS Voice Newsletter, and is past president of MGC. You can read her personal blog at http://pk-pollybog.blogspot.com.

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