Georgia House Bill 92: Vital Records

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During Georgia’s 2019-2020 Legislative Session, Senate Bill 372, Section 5, raised the embargo dates of birth records from 100 to 125 years and of death records from 75 to 100 years. The records within this time period in the custody of the state registrar in the Georgia Department of Public Health (GDPH) were to be transferred to the State Archives for the safekeeping of the records (www.legis.ga.gov/legislation/57288). Over the pandemic constrained objection of Georgia genealogists, the bill passed the Senate and the House, was signed by the Governor, and became law on 1 July 2020. The GDOH did not transfer any of the records to the Georgia Archives.

Currently, House Bill 92 is in the Georgia House of Representatives amending Code Section 31-10-25 of the Official Code of Georgia Annotated (OCGA), “relating to disclosure of information contained in vital records and transfer of records to State Archives.” The proposed bill would reverse changes made by SB372 by lowering the birth date and death date for vital records to 100 years and 75 years, respectively. These records will then be transferred to the State Archives from the State Registrar for “continued safekeeping of the records.” If this bill does not pass, then no records will be transferred to the Georgia Archives, and the records will be closed to the public until 2040.

On the urging of Georgia genealogists Elizabeth Olson, J. David Brandenburg, Kenneth H. Thomas, Jr., and Emma Davis Hamilton, RPAC was asked to write a letter of support. RPAC will be sending a letter in support of the legislation to move the records to the Georgia State Archives

RPAC is also urging Georgia genealogists to contact the Government Affairs Committee members, especially the Chair, Representative Darlene Taylor, and Vice-chair, Representative Steven Sainz, in support of HB92 (www.legis.ga.gov/committees/house/92). Contacting your own House legislator in support of the bill would be extremely helpful (www.legis.ga.gov/find-my-legislator). As the Georgia legislative session is quickly approaching adjournment, a letter of support now could be very beneficial.

 

UPDATE: On 25 February 2021, RPAC chair Jan Alpert sent a letter of support for HB 92 to the Government Affairs Committee chair Darlene Taylor in the Georgia House of Representatives. On Friday, 26 February 2021, a subcommittee passed the bill and sent it to the full committee, who should meet this coming Monday, 1 March 2021. We will continue to monitor and report on the progress of the bill. The letter is attached below.

 

February 25, 2021

Darlene Taylor, Chair

Government Affairs Committee

Georgia House of Representatives

401-H CAP

State Capitol

Atlanta, Georgia 30334

[email protected]

 

RE: Support of House Bill 92

Dear Chair Taylor:

The Records Preservation and Access Coalition supports HB-92 which will transfer the older vital records back to the State Archives where they can be preserved and accessed more easily by genealogists, family historians, and other researchers. While we prefer even lower embargo periods than this bill suggests: 100 years from birth and 75 years from death, marriage, divorce, dissolution of marriage and annulment, we appreciate that our position from last year regarding lower embargo periods was heard and this bill addresses, in part, some of our concerns from last year.

Access to Vital Records

We understand the privacy concerns of the elderly but in the United States the average lifespan of a male is 75.1 years and of a woman 80.5 years. COVID-19 and the high incidence of overdose from opioids has resulted in a decreasing life span which is reflected in these statistics. Therefore, it is not necessary to restrict access to birth records beyond 100 years.

We particularly object to the number of years restricting access to death records. Once someone has passed away, making their death record readily available decreases the likelihood that their identity can be used by someone else. We see no reason why access to death records should be closed any longer than the time it takes for the family of the deceased to complete the probate and file a final tax return.

Death records are used by family history researchers to identify inheritable diseases that may run in a family. When death records are closed for long periods of time, cause of death is not available to third-degree and greater relatives who need access to the records. For example, a third cousin, aunt, or uncle may be the family genealogist. With access to the death record, an experienced genealogist can determine through which branch of the family a disease may occur and notify other family members to seek appropriate medical diagnosis and treatment.

Economic Impact

Most state and county Vital Records Offices are self-funding and generate enough money from fees to support the department. If you close access to vital records, especially death records for 75 years, the state and county record offices will lose revenue for every additional year the records are closed and may need to be funded by the state budget in the future. In states such as Oklahoma where death records are available after 50 years, the state health department saw the demand for copies of records increase when they lowered the embargo period in January 2017.

Description of RPAC

The Records Preservation and Access Coalition is sponsored by the National Genealogical Society and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies (IAJGS). Other large genealogical organizations who participate in the coalition include the Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), the American Society of Genealogists (ASG), and the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen). Members of RPAC meet monthly to advise the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to vital records and on supporting strong records preservation policies and practices. RPAC organizations listed above represent several thousand local, state, and regional societies, with more than 400,000 members researching family history, and over 2,000 professional and forensic genealogists. Professional and Board-certified genealogists who operate small businesses, need access to vital records to perform important work which includes tracking relatives with possible inheritable diseases; working with coroners to identify unclaimed persons; finding next of kin of unclaimed persons for repatriation of military remains; conducting heir research; proving Native American tribal membership; assisting in adoption cases; investigating land disputes; and researching oil and gas leases.

If you have any questions, please contact me at [email protected].

Sincerely,

Janet A. Alpert, Chair

 

cc: Steven Sainz, Vice Chair

Government Affairs Committee

[email protected]

 

 

 

 

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Former FGS FORUM columnist for Records Preservation and Access Committee, RPAC charter member, and NGS Life Member.

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