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The Value of Open Public Records
Records and Repositories
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MGC's NERGC Panel on Open Records: Citizens Can Make a Difference
General Legislation
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How many deaths before the SSDI gets updated again?
Legislation Federal
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Bill Process

Civil Records Quarterly Report February 2007

Bernard J. Couming

Click on this link to access the APG's open records position paper:

On July 25, 2007, members of the MGC and genealogical community attended the public hearing for bills regarding vital records.  See below for more information.  Read the text of the MGC bill HERE. Read the update to the public hearing that was attended by MGC members and members of the genealogical community posted to the APG list by Vice President Melinde Lutz Sanborn HERE.

Massachusetts is one of approximately a dozen states where vital records are now and always have been legally identified as public records, and public access is guaranteed under Massachusetts state law. Certain sensitive areas (such as illegitimate births and fetal deaths) are restricted by state regulation.

Massachusetts Secretary of State William Galvin has submitted two bills (only one to become law). Bills H-3241 and H-3245 would expand the responsibility of his Office of Public Records to enforce rulings regarding denials of public access to public records. The Massachusetts Genealogical Council (MGC) strongly supports this legislation. Genealogists should write their legislators, (House and Senate) in support, and attend the hearing if at all possible. 

A second public hearing on vital records bills, this time before the Joint Committee on Public Health, was held on Wednesday, July 25th at 10:00 AM in Room A-1. The bill enhances current law and calls for activating the long dormant Vital Records and Statistics Committee, and oversight of the development of a computerized vital records system. It also reiterates public access assurances. 

 In Massachusetts, in addition to genealogists, opposition to restrictions on public access to vital records is supported by the Massachusetts Newspaper Publishers Association, the information service industry (heir search, land and real property search, probate legal services). Also opposed have been historians and funeral directors.

WARNING: There is "restrictive" legislation represented in two major bills, H-2213 and H-2218. Among the many restrictive measures a new bureaucracy would be established to handle state licensing that would be required for genealogists. These bills were also considered at the July 25th public hearing.

In Massachusetts, the promoters of public access restrictions have been some custodians of public records. In addition, politicians, worrying about identity theft, have supported these restrictions. This, despite the fact that almost 100% of identity theft is made by raiding mailboxes, stealing purses, hacking computers and other such directed methods.

 In addition, another 30 bills have been filed under the headings of Vital Records or Identity Theft. These are under study by the MGC Legislative Committee.  Many of these issues are being introduced and passed in other states. We must be vigilant. Genealogists from other states can contribute to our efforts in Massachusetts by writing to the State House with their concerns as visitors seeking family history data whose financial contribution to hotels and restaurants is jeopardized by access restriction legislation. 

See for contact information in the Massachusetts legislature. Very little legislation gets passed at the state house without visible public support.  

The Federal Scenario

National public health organizations since the 1970s have promoted common national standards among all the states to establish consistency for the benefit of national health statistics. These suggestions have been adopted or rejected by the various states. 

More recently, federal laws are impacting services formerly only under state jurisdiction. The 2004 Intelligence Reform Law called for detailed regulations. These are now scheduled for release in August 2007 for public comment.  

A related issue has already met with strong opposition in the March 1, 2007 release by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) of the proposed regulations for the Real ID Act. For example, this act calls for regulating birth certificates for driving license applications. The New Hampshire legislature has rejected this intrusion into its state's affairs. The regulations can be found at website. That page is identified as "Notice of Proposed Rulemaking: REAL ID". At the bottom of the page is a link to the document. The 60-day public comment period for those regulations closed April 30, 2007. Public comment rights apply to all citizens.