Connecticut — New Threat to Genealogists: Senate Bill 414 — Updated

With thanks to Dr. Robert L. Rafford, RPAC State Liaison for Connecticut:

SB414-Year2014_002 (2)

“Please forward this e-mail on to any genealogical or historical group or individual who might be affected by this legislation:

 

Senate Bill 414 poses an immediate threat to genealogists and comes before the Public Health Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly (CGA) tomorrow, Friday, March 14, at 10:30 a.m. at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford. I urge everyone to join me there at the hearing and, if you can, present testimony in person. If you cannot be there, you can still submit testimony which will become a part of the permanent record by sending your testimony to PHC.Testimony@cga.ct.gov. It need not be fancy – just let all members know that this is an outrageous assault on the rights of American citizens known as genealogists. Please also contact the members of the Public Health Committee; the membership list can be found at http://www.cga.ct.gov/asp/menu/MemberList.asp?comm_code=PH. Please also contact your local legislators. Tell them that you want them not to give a pass to this shocking and probably illegal proposal.

 

Here are the facts:
SB 414 is called AN ACT CONCERNING THE DEPARTMENT OF PUBLIC HEALTH’S RECOMMENDATIONS CONCERNING GENEALOGISTS’ ACCESS TO VITAL RECORDS.

 

The current statute states that genealogists have access to “all vital records in the custody of any registrar of vital statistics, including certificates, ledgers, record books, card files, indexes and database printouts,  “during all normal business hours.” The proposed legislation would delete “during all normal business hours” and would add this sentence:

 

A registrar of vital statistics may grant a genealogist immediate access to such records or may require a genealogist to schedule an appointment to access such records, at the registrar’s discretion. A registrar requiring an appointment for access to such records shall schedule such appointment as soon as reasonably practicable.”

 

This legislation is wrong for these reasons:

1)    It would gut the existing provision regarding “normal business hours” access; that right was emphasized in the revised 1996 legislation (I was one of its authors) because registrars were unfairly treating genealogists as if our requests were “frivolous,” whereas the business of others was “serious.” It simply meant that genealogists were not second-class citizens and should be served on a first-come-first-served basis like everyone else.

 

2)    It would demand that all genealogists contact a town hall first because we would never know whether an appointment is necessary before research. If you have ever attempted to telephone a vital record office of a city in Connecticut, you know that this would make research a nightmare.

 

3)    It would allow all registrars the power to put off for days, weeks or longer any researcher wishing to legally access the public (death. marriage, land, and all other) records of our government until they deem it is “reasonably practicable.” While Connecticut spends millions of dollars trying to attract the tourist trade to our state, this would heartily discourage them from coming here, staying in hotels, eating in our restaurants, going to our attractions and researching in our libraries and especially town halls, as they do now for weeks at a time.

 

4)    The most egregious part of this legislation is that it would single out a particular class of American citizens, genealogists, whether acting from an avocation or conducting a business, for adverse treatment. This is legally impermissible. Others who regularly make records requests of registrars are attorneys, funeral directors, title searchers, real estate agents, heads of municipalities, soccer moms, veterans, medical researchers, officials from state and federal agencies and departments, police departments, adoption agencies, statisticians, newspaper reporters, authors, biographers and other members of the general public. Not one of these groups would be adversely affected by this legislation – just genealogists.

 

Tell them that, as a genealogist, you do not want to lose your status as American citizens simply because your reason for making legal requests may be different from that of others, nor can your requests be treated as inferior to those of other citizens. In this country, all must be treated equally under the law.

 

The bill is ostensibly from the Commissioner of Public Health, Dr. Jewell Mullen (see her at http://www.ct.gov/dph/cwp/view.asp?a=3115&q=473414). Visit her page and send her a complaining message too. She was probably importuned by a small handful of registrars, but we don’t know; because this is a short session of the legislature, bills are not introduced by individual legislators, so tracking the origin of this proposal is most difficult.

 

More information about the bill and the names of all legislators can be found at http://www.cga.ct.gov. You should become as familiar with this site as possible (this may become a yearly event!). It is possible to track the progress on this legislation by clicking “bill tracking” at the upper right corner; then, when a change is made, you will receive an e-mail letting you know of the change. To find the wording of this bill, simply type in “414” in the box at the top labeled “Number,” then click on “Raised Bill” and a pdf copy of the bill should pop up.

 

Thank you so much for your help with this crisis. Your individual support is absolutely essential to defeating this threat.

UPDATED 28 Mar 2014:

RPAC Member Barbara Matthews has shared the following report from Tom Howard:

“Dear Friends in Genealogy:

The note just received from 6th District and Co-Chairman of the Public Health Committee Senator Gerratana’ s office has confirmed that SB 414 has failed to get out of the committee to the floor of the State Senate and House because of the outpouring of letters, phone calls and e mails received and testimony given at the public hearing on the bill.

We feel confident that the bill is dead and will stay dead for this session. We will remain vigilant that the matter will not appear as amendments to other bills. We ask that you thank senators and representatives for any help they have given us while asking them to continue to watch for any matters affecting genealogists.

Robert Rafford, Nora Galvin and I thank you again for your help in getting the message out.

Sincerely,

Tom Howard

Genealogical Coalition 2014

Steering Committee

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