Genealogy Today, by Betty Lou Malesky, CG
Two States Consider Easing Vital Records Accesss
The states of Virginia and Pennsylvania are currently considering easing retrictions on vital records in response to pressure from genealogists and are soliciting comments from researchers.
In Pennsylvania, Vital Records Bill SB-361 unanimously passed the Senate Appropriations Committee on September 19, 2011 and is now awaiting action by the State Senate. It may be voted on before the end of September.
The bill will classify death certificates over 50 years old and birth certificates over 100 years old as open records filed in the Pennsylvania State Archives. At that point it would be possible for the records to be digitized and placed online. Without this change in the law's the records will remain restricted forever.
Your visit, phone call, and letter or even a short email sent to at least one state senator could make a difference. Hearing from organizations, their constituents and others including out of state residents could prove decisive in getting the bill passed by the State Senate. The bill is discussed in detail along with a sample letter in support of it in the September 20/21, 2011 Latest News section at http://users.rcn.com/timarg/PaHR-Access.htm.
The Virginia legislature is considering changes to the law covering access to vital records that could either expand or severely limit researchers' access to birth, marriage, and death records. Vital records are currently held by the Virginia Department of Health (VDH) with birth records closed for 100 years and marriage and death records closed for 50 years. At that time the records are to be turned over to the Library of Virginia (LVA). The VDH wants these time periods lengthened. VDH now limits access to its "closed" records to "immediate family members", excluding even grandchildren.
The Virginia Joint Commission on Health Care (JCHC) has conducted a study of the issue and supports closing all records (including county and city marriage and death records) and changing the closed VDH period to 125 years for births and 75 years for marriages and deaths. Copies of marriage and death records at the Virginia county or city level currently are open when they exist.
The Virginia Genealogical Society (VGS) has offered comments urging that death certificates held by VDH become open records immediately, since there is no legitimate privacy or identity theft reasons for keeping them closed, and that the range of family members with access to closed vital records be significantly changed.
Unless extensive public comments are received by October 6, Virginia's vital records may be closed, threatening genealogical and family medical history research, and blocking new members for lineage societies. All members of the genealogical community are asked to file comments by October 6 with the Virginia legislative commission considering this issue.
The bill includes eight options. It's recommended that option 1(doing nothing) be opposed, since Virginia's overly restrictive laws should be liberalized, and that the remaining eight options be supported. The text may be viewed at http://leg5.state.va.us/User_db/frmView.aspx?ViewId=1980.
Please email comments referencing SB 865 (with your name and address) to: firstname.lastname@example.org, or fax them to 804-786-5538, or mail to: Joint Commission on Health Care, P.O. Box 1322, Richmond, VA 23218. Out of state comments might explain that you do research in Virginia, and that closing records will discourage travel to the state for further research. If you have examples where your current research has been blocked by VDH, include this also. Remember time is of the essence.
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3 October 2011