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An update on records access

It’s not a done deal yet, but things are looking good for access to hundreds of court order books in Virginia that have been closed for months as an unintended consequence of a privacy bill passed last year.

thumbs.upThe Virginia House of Delegates has unanimously passed a bill that would reopen the court order books, and a companion measure in the Virginia Senate was unanimously voted out of committee and will be up for a vote any time now in the Senate.

It’s not quite time to breathe a sigh of relief.

We may need to call out the genealogical troops again before this is finished.

But, at the moment, we can at least stand down.

Here’s what happened.

Last year, in March 2013, the Virginia Legislature passed a law that The Legal Genealogist wants to nominate as the poster child for the law of unintended consequences: Senate Bill 1335, “An Act to amend and reenact § 18.2-308 of the Code of Virginia, relating to concealed handgun permits; confidentiality of permittee information.”1

The aim of the bill was a good one: to protect the privacy of those who have applied for and received permits to carry concealed weapons. So it directed that such permits could not be disclosed by the clerks of the courts of Virginia.

The hitch: there have been permits to carry concealed weapons in Virginia for more than 115 years. And the permits have always been recorded in court order books. The same court order books that everybody who accesses court records needs to use, genealogists included. And there was no time limit written into the bill.

The result: a massive loss of access to public records. At the Library of Virginia, Virginia’s fabulous state archives-and-library in Richmond, more than 220 rolls of microfilmed court records dating back in some cases to the 18th century had to be pulled from public access. At least 135 of those reels contain nothing but records that are more than 100 years old.

Fortunately for public access, two measures were introduced in this session of the Legislature to cure the problem. The weapons permits themselves are not to be disclosed but the court record books to July 2008 are to be reopened. And both bills are moving steadily forward.

Here’s what’s happened with HB 100, sponsored by Delegate Scott Lingamfelter. The key votes are highlighted:

12/13/13 House: Prefiled and ordered printed; offered 01/08/14 14100885D
12/13/13 House: Referred to Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety
01/14/14 House: Assigned MPPS sub: Subcommittee #1
01/16/14 House: Subcommittee recommends reporting with amendment(s) (5-Y 0-N)
01/17/14 House: Reported from Militia, Police and Public Safety with amendments (21-Y 0-N)
01/20/14 House: Read first time
01/21/14 House: Read second time
01/21/14 House: Committee amendments agreed to
01/21/14 House: Engrossed by House as amended HB100E
01/21/14 House: Printed as engrossed 14100885D-E
01/22/14 House: Read third time and passed House BLOCK VOTE (97-Y 0-N)
01/22/14 House: VOTE: BLOCK VOTE PASSAGE (97-Y 0-N)
01/23/14 Senate: Constitutional reading dispensed
01/23/14 Senate: Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice.2

And in the Senate, SB 600 sponsored by Senator John Cosgrove is also progressing, with committee action this week:

01/13/14 Senate: Presented and ordered printed 14103721D
01/13/14 Senate: Referred to Committee for Courts of Justice
01/22/14 Senate: Reported from Courts of Justice with amendments (15-Y 0-N).3

So far, so good. And members of the Legislature have reported getting lots of support for these measures from constituents and genealogists.

So we can relax for the moment. But please keep standing by in case another push is needed!


SOURCES

Image: user Mohamed Ibrahim at Clker.com

  1. Chapter 659, 2013 Acts of Assembly of Virginia, Virginia Legislative Information System (http://lis.virginia.gov : accessed 25 Aug 2013).
  2. 2014 Session, HB 100, bill tracking, Virginia Legislative Information System (http://lis.virginia.gov : accessed 24 Jan 2014).
  3. 2014 Session, SB 600, bill tracking, Virginia Legislative Information System (http://lis.virginia.gov : accessed 24 Jan 2014).
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