RPAC Alert — 2011 Revision of Model State Vital Statistics Act

Background: Many state vital records registrars have been operating since 1992 under state legislation based on the last approved Model State Vital Statistics Act which includes restrictions on access to birth records for 100 years and death, marriage, and divorce records for 50 years. The Model State Vital Statistics Act was developed by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), a US government agency under the Department of Health and Human Services. The 1992 Model Act currently in effect, may be read at: http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/misc/mvsact92b.pdf

A Working Group, consisting primarily of state and local vital statistics executives, was formed in 2009 to update the Model Act and after distributing a draft to vital records officers for comments in 2011, reported out their work as the 2011 Revision in May 2011. The draft was not distributed to the genealogical community for comments. In June 2011 the National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems (NAPHSIS) endorsed the 2011 Revision of the Model State Vital Statistics Act and Regulations and encouraged state vital registration executives to introduce legislation which supported the 2011 Draft Revision. The proposed Model Act extends the closure periods to 125 years after the date of a live birth, 75 years after the date of death, or 100 years after the date of marriage or divorce.  RPAC has responded to each state initiative when we were notified of pending legislation. You can read the proposed 2011 Model Act http://www.naphsis.org/about/Documents/FinalMODELLAWSeptember72011.pdf

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) put the 2011 Revision “on hold” in April 2012. RPAC has contacted the Department of Health and Human Services and requested that prior to adoption, the proposed 2011 Revised Model Act should be made available for public review and comment.

Action Steps: Recently we have seen bills introduced in several states in which the language used may have been suggested by the 2011 Revision and we fear more restrictive vital records legislation may be introduced in additional states during the current legislative sessions.  Bills may be introduced under the guise of “privacy” legislation. If you learn of any pending “vital records” legislation in your state, please notify RPAC immediately at access@fgs.org. Also visit the RPAC website at www.FGS.org/RPAC and review the “State Tool Kit for State Liaisons” developed by Jan Meisels Allen on how to contact your state legislators. It is important for genealogists to write their legislators and request that their leaders be asked to testify at hearings. The states do not have to follow the 2011 Revised Model Act, so based upon the existing closure periods, you have an opportunity to influence the outcome.

RPAC is a joint committee of FGS, NGS, and IAJGS as voting members. The Association of Professional Genealogists (APG), the Board for Certification of Genealogists (BCG), International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists (ICAPGen), and the American Society of Genealogists (ASG) also serve as participating members. By invitation, RPAC also includes participation from a few commercial providers of genealogical information. RPAC meets monthly to inform and advise the genealogical community on ensuring proper access to vital records and on supporting strong records preservation policies and practices at the federal, state, and occasionally the local level.

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