URGENT! Speak out TODAY for Texas records!

Speak out TODAY for Texas records access

Word just reached the broader genealogical community yesterday that we’re in a fight in the Texas Legislature right now over access to birth and death records, and there’s an urgent need for genealogists who are Texans or who have Texas roots or who just care about records access to speak out to members of the House of Representatives there.

The bill that’s at issue is House Bill 3252. It’s sponsored by Representative John Zerwas (Fort Bend County), and it would dramatically lengthen the time during which Texas birth and death records would be closed. Right now, birth records become public 75 years after the birth, and death records 25 years after the death. Zerwas’ bill would change that to 125 years after the birth and 50 years after the death.

The argument this time is that it would prevent identity theft — despite the fact that there’s not a shred of evidence that anybody has used (or even could use) records of people who’ve been dead 25 years already for that purpose or that birth records more than 75 years old have been or could be used either.

The numbers in the proposal — 125 years and 50 years — are coming from that same not-yet-approved proposed Model Vital Records act that some state vital records registrars put together without any public comment at all that was the driving force behind a bill in Oregon 10 days ago.1 That Oregon move was defeated, proving that genealogists working together can make a difference.

Now’s the time — right nowtoday — to work together in Texas. The alert from the Texas State Genealogical Society that came out yesterday says House Bill 3252 could be voted on in committee as early as tomorrow. There’s literally no time to waste.

Here’s what you can do:

     • First, familiarize yourself with the bill and the arguments against it. The Texas State Genealogical Society through its Records Preservation and Access Committee has material online you can review.

     • Second, write a few paragraphs explaining that you oppose the bill and why. Use your own words (legislators ignore anything that looks like a form letter) to explain why access to birth and death records is so important and why closing them because of an unsubstantiated fear that they might be misused by somebody is a bad idea. Key points could include your own experiences with these records, the need we all have to get information for our own medical history and the need forensic genealogists have for access to these records for their work.

     • Third, email the sponsor of the bill, Rep. John Zerwas, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. . Send your few paragraphs to him, adding information about yourself: if you’re from his district, say so — you’re a voter! If you’re from Texas, say so. If you have Texas roots, say so.

     • Fourth, email the members of the House of Representativs Public Health Committee. Again, send your few paragraphs to each of them, adding information about yourself: if you’re from one of their districts, say so — you’re a voter! If you’re from Texas, say so. If you have Texas roots, say so. The members and the counties they represent are:

Chair Rep. Lois W. Kolkhorst
Washington Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Vice Chair Rep. Elliott Naishtat
Travis Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Garnet F. Coleman
Harris Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Nicole Collier
Tarrant Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Philip Cortez
Bexar Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Sarah Davis
Harris Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Bobby Guerra
Hidalgo Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Susan King
Jones, Nolan, and Taylor Cos.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Jodie Laubenberg
Collin Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. J. D. Sheffield
Erath, Comanche, McCulloch, Mills, Hamilton, Coryell, San Saba and Somervell Cos.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Rep. Bill Zedler
Tarrant Co.
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

     • Finally, email the members of the House of Representativs from any county where you have any ties. If you go to the Texas Legislature Online website (http://www.capitol.state.tx.us/), there’s a box on the right hand side to plug in the name of the town your ancestors came from or where you have connections. That will tell you which member represents that area or those areas. Again, send your few paragraphs to each of them, adding the information about yourself and your Texas roots.

Speak out, genealogists. TODAY. There’s no time to waste.


SOURCES

  1. See Judy G. Russell, “And one step back…,” The Legal Genealogist, posted 9 Apr 2013 (http://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : accessed 17 Apr 2013).
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20 Responses to URGENT! Speak out TODAY for Texas records!

  1. John H says:

    Done my part. Wow — it really went from bad to worse quickly!

  2. Richard Folkerth says:

    Thanks for the heads-up.

    We only let our Texas legislature meet for 120 days every other year to minimize mischief like this. Maybe that is too long or too frequently …

    DICK FOLKERTH
    Dallas

  3. I don’t now about The Legal Genealogist, but this is genealogist is growing tired of these continual attacks on common sense, and our always REACTING to them, instead of making sure such idiotic proposals don’t get dreamed up in the first place. As a former state legislator, and I can guarantee you I never woke up one morning and decided I’d file a bill to make records access more difficult. Nay, someone or someones is pushing this constant rash of ideas, and for some reason. What that reason is I cannot fathom, but it seems to always be under the guise of preventing identity theft. Which is of course a red canard if there ever was one. Maybe we should be writing and proposing REAL records access laws, and stop reacting to this sort of behavior. Just an idea.

    • Oops. There is no preview/edit option here. My apologies for the typos. I hope my meaning is clear enough.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      I too wish for a bit more proactivity, Craig. This has GOT to be more of a priority for our entire community.

      • John H says:

        So — IS there a Genealogy PAC?

        Maybe I should start one?

      • Well, my forwarding this article to my friend Mariann Laughlin, of the Daughters of the Republic of Texas, is definitely going to have a few legislators’ phones ringing off the hook. She was aware of this, but did not who to contact: thanks to your aticlle, now she does and she knows some of them quite well. Don’t mess with the Daughters of Texas!

      • As I touched upon earlier, there is obviously a group of people pushing these ideas through state after state (Missouri being a very big shining light moving in the opposite direction), and I don’t think people are suddenly waking up one morning with the idea to restrict records access. Oh, the REASON given is to prevent identity theft, but as has already been noted here and elsewhere, this is a smoke-screen. So who is really behind all this, and why? I suspect if we examine the loopholes in these bills, a pattern will emerge where one specific group of people with something to gain by shutting others out. Perhaps The Legal Genealogist will be able to follow up on this with some of her excellent journalistic talents. As they say, “follow the money.”

  4. P.S. I sent this to my genealogical friends in Texas, who are no doubt already on top of it, but it never hurts to send back up.

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Thanks. The alert was a bit delayed in getting out to the Texas genealogical community as a whole, so making sure everyone knows is a real priority.

  5. Susan Winchester says:

    I can understand why death records should be closed while the estate might be open, but could someone please tell me what nefarious thing I can do with a death certificate for someone who has been dead for 25 years (let alone 50)?

  6. Richard Folkerth says:

    I believe our media is largely to blame for this identity theft situation. I tried to draw attention to this situation in the email I sent to the folks in Austin;
    “Hysteria is sweeping the country about identity theft. We read about all the ways our identity might be stolen. The most likely method, so far as I can determine, is identity theft by a member of a person’s family or by an acquaintance. The headlines go to the hacker who breaks into a database and steals the information for 500,000 people. The writers warn about dumpster-diving, so we all are now shredding our sensitive information (a real boon for the folks who sell shredders). And every time we give our credit card to a restaurant employee … who then disappears into the back for 10 minutes … we are at risk of having our credit card compromised.”

    “But I have never read of a single person whose identity was stolen by a crook who accessed county records. Seems to me that the last place a crook would want to be is the county courthouse!”

    DICK FOLKERTH
    Dallas

  7. Teresa Devine says:

    Judy, I live in Austin and follow the Texas Legislature quite closely. Rep. John Zerwas’s bills was taken up by the Public Health Committee on Apr 3. The Texas State Genealogical Society did an excellent job testifying on the bill. I watched the hearing and it seemed to me that the committee members took their concerns seriously. The committee has taken no action on the bill which usually it would have by now, if it intended to do so.

  8. Marie Brannon says:

    The Social Security numbers of millions of deceased individuals are readily available on the Internet for free, posted by the Federal government! What’s more, they are available within a few months of the death. If identity thieves can’t think of a way to use those, why on earth would they want 50 or 75-year-old records? That’s what I’m telling those legislators in my e-mails. Thanks for the heads-up!!

    • Judy G. Russell says:

      Unfortunately, making the argument that the SSDI records are available online will just fuel the move to close those (already under attack by at least four separate bills in Congress).

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