Records access support needed
It’s been a never-ending battle for genealogists, the fight for access to information needed for research.
And the latest skirmish is being fought out in Georgia, right now.
In the last legislative session, which ended in 2020, the Georgia Legislature followed along behind so many others recently and blindly assumed that closing vital records would deter identity theft. So it changed the law to restrict public access to birth records for 125 years after birth and death records for 100 years after death, instead of the previous 100 years (birth) and 75 years (death).1
And access during the closure period is pretty much limited to a tiny class of requesters: spouse, parent, grandparent, child, or sibling.2
In other words, genealogists, historians, authors, academics, scholars, journalists, medical researchers, and many others are out of luck. Research that depends on access to access to these critical records — including research into heritable family diseases and research aimed at repatriating remains of the unknown dead — has essentially ground to a halt.
Now the Georgia House has already recognized that the law had far too great an impact on this vital research, and promptly passed a bill — HB92 — in this current legislative session by a whopping 156-0 vote that would roll back these changes.3 It went to the Georgia Senate, where the Senate Oversight Committee offered a substitute that would leave birth records closed, but at least reopen death records after 75 years, instead of 100 years.4
Now… The Legal Genealogist will refrain from the usual rant about how incredibly dumb it is to close death records at all. Every bit of research that’s ever been done shows that ready access to death records is one of the strongest tools to deter identity theft. Still, even clawing 25 years of access back is better than not getting those years, so we’ll take what we can get.
But time is running out.
The current session of the Georgia Legislature ends on April 4th.
And the bill is stuck in the Government Oversight Committee in the Georgia Senate.
So our community needs to speak up, and speak out, for records access in Georgia.
If you live in Georgia, if you research in Georgia, if your ancestors came through Georgia, the time is now to speak out. Information on the members of the Senate Government Oversight Committee can be found on the General Assembly website. Clicking on the name of each Senator will indicate what district is represented, and you can find out what district covers the area where your ancestors lived by entering the name of the city or town and state at the website Open States.
The key points to be made after we identify ourselves and any connection we have to that senator’s district are simple:
• Critical research into family health history and repatriation of remains, among other matters, cannot proceed without access to death records.
• HB92 will restore at least some access to death records to permit this research to proceed.
• HB92 passed the House by a 156-0 vote and it deserves a yea vote in the Senate before this session expires.
Records access needs a vote in Georgia, NOW.
Cite/link to this post: Judy G. Russell, “A vote for Georgia, NOW!,” The Legal Genealogist (https://www.legalgenealogist.com/blog : posted 18 Mar 2022).