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Access to Public Records: One Person Can Make a Difference - FGS Wiki

Access to Public Records: One Person Can Make a Difference


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[[Category:Strategies for Societies]][[Category:Rubeck, Art]][[Category:Archives]]
+
[[Category:Strategies for Societies]][[Category:Rencher, David]][[Category:Preservation and Access]]
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== INTRODUCTION ==
 +
 +
The question is often asked, "What can I do? I'm
 +
only one person." A legitimate question, but one
 +
that undervalues the efforts, influence and
 +
success that one person can have. Each year,
 +
thousands of historical records are earmarked
 +
for destruction. Federal, state and local record
 +
retention schedules, administered by governing
 +
agencies, determine the end of a record's value
 +
for which it was created.
 +
 
 +
Although an issue for many years, the events
 +
surrounding the destruction of the World Trade
 +
Center on September 11, 2001 brought identity
 +
theft to the forefront as a subject for government
 +
and media scrutiny. Since then legislatures have
 +
raised a number of pieces of legislation directed
 +
at controlling the access and misuse of public
 +
records.
 +
 +
 
 +
== KEEPING INFORMED ==
 +
 +
"Where do I start?" Start by identifying your
 +
Federal and State legislators. Most states have a web site with a "Directory of Elected Officials."
 +
You can access these sites using <www.[name
 +
of state].gov> (e.g. http://www.iowa.gov). At your
 +
state’s site find links to the legislative branch
 +
and the offices of your legislators. The
 +
legislative aides in these offices can generally
 +
tell you if pending state legislation addresses the
 +
topics of: vital records, identity theft, archives
 +
and/or libraries.
 +
 
 +
The National Conference of State Legislatures’
 +
Web site <http://www.ncsl.org> offers information on
 +
key public policy issues debated within state
 +
legislatures.
 +
 
 +
Another obvious place to look for information
 +
about these topics is in the newspaper and at online news web sites. Often,
 +
these subjects are in a special legislative section.
 +
Some newspapers carry summaries of the
 +
pending bills.
 +
 
 +
The Records Preservation and Access (RP&A)
 +
Committee, a joint effort of the Federation of
 +
Genealogical Societies (FGS), the National
 +
Genealogical Society (NGS), and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies IAJGS), works “To advise
 +
the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to historical records of genealogical
 +
value in whatever media they are recorded. . .”
 +
Representatives from the Association of
 +
Professional Genealogists (APG) and the Board
 +
for Certification of Genealogists (BCG) also
 +
serve on the RP&A Committee. State liaisons
 +
work with the committee to keep information
 +
current on pending bills.
 +
 
 +
Most state legislatures are in session during the
 +
first quarter of the year. To identify when your
 +
legislature is in session, go to the FGS Web site
 +
at <http://www.fgs.org> and follow the link to the
 +
Records Preservation and Access Committee pages (at http://www.fgs.org/rpac/).
 +
Summaries of current issues are also printed in
 +
the Federation of Genealogical Societies’
 +
quarterly electronic publication, ''FGS FORUM'' and in the
 +
National Genealogical Society’s NGS NewsMagazine.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== National and State Issues ==
 +
 +
National issues are sometimes easier to spot at
 +
the state level. Often, the news first breaks in
 +
the home state of a state representative or
 +
senator who introduces a bill. With the
 +
genealogical community e-mail network and Facebook, this
 +
news can travel rapidly. Since many bills are
 +
referred to committee, there is usually time to
 +
organize efforts of support or opposition. Bills
 +
at the state level can be tracked in the same
 +
manner as those at the national level.
 +
 
 +
The strategy to voice your support or opposition
 +
to these bills at either the state or national level
 +
is best focused on the following steps:
 +
<ul>
 +
�<li>Identify the sponsor of the bill
 +
<li>Identify the committee, its members, and
 +
hearing dates
 +
<li>Determine if the bill requires funding (this
 +
sends it to the appropriations committee)
 +
<li>Obtain contact information for the members
 +
and their legislative aides
 +
<li>Read the text of the bill usually posted on
 +
the legislative web site
 +
<li>Ask if the majority or minority counsel has
 +
written a summary of the bill
 +
<li>Notify your state RPAC liaison and voice
 +
your concerns with the bill
 +
<li>Be patient – you may want to wait for a
 +
response from the Records Preservation and
 +
Access Committee for an analysis of the bill .
 +
<li>You may choose to send a letter of support
 +
or opposition to the bill to your legislator
 +
</ul>
 +
 
 +
Coordinating your efforts with the RPAC state
 +
liaison increases your effectiveness. Your help
 +
and assistance may be needed to track the bill,
 +
contact others in the genealogical community,
 +
or other activities.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== Contacting Legislators ==
 +
 +
If you choose to telephone, fax, e-mail, or send a
 +
letter to your legislator, take some time to craft
 +
your comments carefully. Be articulate, get
 +
directly to the point and make your position
 +
clear. If you choose to e-mail, be aware that
 +
some states do not allow the receipt of
 +
attachments due to the threat of receiving
 +
computer viruses.
 +
 
 +
Watch the progression of the bills closely.
 +
Often, a bill will be tabled in committee only to
 +
show up again in another bill. The new bill may
 +
or may not be closely associated with the
 +
previous bill.
 +
 
 +
If the bill is an "administration bill," it means
 +
that it is a bill that the Governor or the President
 +
is pushing. This usually means that the voting
 +
will line up along party lines. Getting members
 +
to cross over on their vote is more difficult, but
 +
not impossible. Knowing which party controls
 +
the Assembly, House or Senate is key to
 +
understanding if the voting will pass or defeat
 +
the bill. Knowing the same information about
 +
the committees also helps you understand the
 +
chances of the bill making it out of committee
 +
and on to the legislative floor for passage.
 +
 
 +
When you are ready to send a copy of your
 +
position to your elected officials, the letter
 +
should be addressed to the sponsor of the bill
 +
with a copy to the following, addressing each by
 +
name as a cc:
 +
<ul>
 +
<li>Governor or President
 +
<li>Committee chair and members
 +
<li>Staff counsel, respective committees
 +
<li>Majority Consultant, House (or Assembly)
 +
<li>Minority Consultant, House (or Assembly) 
 +
<li>Republican Caucus
 +
<li>Democratic Caucus
 +
</ul>
 +
 
 +
The consultants listed above write the summary
 +
of the bill for the legislators. The salient points
 +
of the bill are described, the party's
 +
recommended voting position (yea or nay) and
 +
the list of those in support or opposition to bill
 +
are detailed. Each legislator and staff member
 +
receives a copy of the summary. Therefore, it is
 +
very important to get your written opinion to
 +
them. Sample statements are often taken from
 +
the letters received to craft the language of
 +
support and opposition.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== Networking ==
 +
 +
One of three principle objectives of the
 +
Federation of Genealogical Societies is to
 +
"Marshall the resources of the genealogical
 +
community." Organizing a network of support
 +
or opposition to legislation that impacts records
 +
preservation and access is a central focus of this
 +
organization. Many other organizations and
 +
disciplines have interests similar to those of the
 +
genealogical community. Interestingly, some of
 +
these make "strange bedfellows." Here are a
 +
few:
 +
<ul>
 +
<li>Newspapers
 +
� <li>Banking Industry
 +
� <li>Adoption Groups
 +
� <li>State Registrars and Archivists
 +
� <li>Historical Societies
 +
� <li>Commercial Genealogical Businesses
 +
</ul>
 +
 
 +
Forming a successful coalition of partners to
 +
affect legislation can bring a number of positive
 +
outcomes. Many of the above named groups,
 +
with the exception of State Registrars and
 +
Archivists who are prohibited from lobbying,
 +
have networks and resources, including paid
 +
lobbyists, that can influence opinions and
 +
educate legislators on a number of fronts.
 +
If you are a member of a local, regional or state
 +
genealogical society, contact the officers of
 +
those organizations to alert them to any
 +
legislation about which you have concerns.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== Media Coverage ==
 +
 +
On some issues, emotions run high. Going
 +
immediately to the media is often a reactive
 +
tactic. However, just as you take the time to
 +
craft issues well, you must take the time to
 +
develop a strategy with the media. Remember,
 +
you have no control over the final product. If
 +
you are not careful, this strategy can backfire
 +
quickly and become a detriment to your cause.
 +
For example: you choose to have a rally at the
 +
state capitol building. The news media
 +
announces that your group is meeting at noon
 +
and interested legislative staff keep an eye out
 +
the window to gauge the level of support for
 +
your issue. Nobody, or only a few people come!
 +
This is a difficult blow to overcome.
 +
 
 +
It is generally useful for you to work with your
 +
local, state and regional genealogical and
 +
historical societies in establishing a relationship
 +
with the media prior to needing their assistance
 +
on lobbying a piece of legislation.
 +
 
 +
The issue must be a story that is appealing to the
 +
public. While an emotional appeal is sometimes
 +
attractive, gathering your facts and being able to
 +
clearly articulate your position is more
 +
important. If you are interviewed, be sure to get
 +
your message across. Practice bridging from any
 +
question the reporter asks, to one of your key
 +
messages. Write down your key messages ahead
 +
of time and practice answering questions with a
 +
friend. Be calm and coherent.
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== Useful Web Sites ==
 +
 +
The following Web sites carry information that
 +
will be useful as you stay informed on issues of
 +
concern to records in your areas of interest.
 +
<ol>
 +
<li><http://www.fgs.org> – Federation of Genealogical
 +
Societies – click on the Records Preservation
 +
and Access Committee link
 +
<li><http://www.ngsgenealogy.org> – National
 +
Genealogical Society – check current events
 +
link
 +
<li><http://www.[name of state].gov> – check your
 +
state’s web site for current session information
 +
and bill tracking. Additional, check
 +
<http://www.house.gov> and <http://www.senate.gov> –
 +
these sites will keep you informed on national
 +
issues that may impact records access.
 +
<li><http://www.ncsl.org> – National Conference of
 +
State Legislatures – offers links to state
 +
legislature sites
 +
</ol>
 +
 
 +
 
 +
== Summary ==
 +
 +
One person can certainly get things rolling when
 +
it comes to identifying legislation that impacts
 +
records preservation and access. Getting
 +
personally involved is the best way to use your
 +
voice and vote to protect and preserve our
 +
nation’s precious historical records.
 +
At times, you may disagree with the collective
 +
position taken by the FGS/NGS Records
 +
Preservation and Access Committee –
 +
wonderful, voice your opinion – that's what
 +
makes America work! RP&A Committee
 +
members can often only offer assistance and
 +
advice. It is up to you to take that advice and
 +
transform it into action on your local and state
 +
level.
 +
 
 +
''Always remember, individually and "together,
 +
we can make a difference!"''

Revision as of 21:16, 14 August 2013

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