Legislation Alert Archive
Following is an archive of past positions, commentary, and actions taken by GSNJ on legislation.
New Jersey: Adoptees Granted Access to Original Birth Records (Fall 2014)
At first glance, Senate Bill 873 appears to have moved quickly through the New Jersey legislative process. Looks, however, can be deceiving. In reality, the passage of this law—which will allow adoptees and certain others to access an adopted person’s original long form birth certificate—took over 30 years.
Since about 1980, advocates have been working to revise the law and allow adoptees access to their original birth records. Over the years, bills had been regularly introduced in both the Senate and the Assembly. In several recent legislative sessions, a bill was passed by the Senate but did not make it through the Assembly. During the 2010-2011 legislative session, the bill was passed by both the Senate and the Assembly, but was conditionally vetoed by the Governor. The legislature was not able to work out a compromise at that time.
The current bill was introduced on 14 January 2014, early in the new legislative session. Both the Senate and the Assembly passed it on 27 February 2014. After a conditional veto by the Governor, a compromise was reached and the amended bill was approved in both houses in May. Then, on 27 May 2014, Governor Christie signed the law into effect. With its passage, New Jersey now joins about a dozen other states that have reformed access laws.
Prior to the passage of this law, original birth certificates for adoptees were among records that were sealed by a law passed in November 1940. From then forward, when a child was adopted, a new birth certificate was created showing the adoptive parents’ information, redacting the birth parents’ names, and possibly obscuring the original place of birth. The only way for an adopted person to obtain a copy of the original birth record was to get a court order for the certificate. When this law was passed in 1940, it was not made retroactive, so court records for adoptions that took place prior to November of 1940 have been available from the court where the adoption was finalized. These records usually include the parents’ names, and sometimes include a copy of the original birth record.
The new law makes it possible for an adopted person over the age of 18 (and certain others) to have access to their original birth certificate. The others who may have access include direct descendants, spouses, adoptive parents, legal guardians, or other legal representatives of the adopted person. An agency of the state or federal government may also have access for official purposes only.
The compromise reached in passing the new law delays access to the original birth certificates until 1 January 2017. This will allow time for birth parents to have their names removed from birth certificates issued before 1 August 2015, if they so desire. Birth parents requesting this will be asked to provide some medical history and to keep it updated at regular intervals.
They will have an opportunity to express a preference regarding whether and how they can be contacted, and they can change their choice at any time. Birth certificates issued on 1 August 2015 and after will not have the birth parents names redacted.
The full text of Senate Bill 873 can be found on the New Jersey Legislature website: www.njleg.state.nj.us. In the “Bill Search” box on the right side of the page, enter “S873” in the “Bill Number” field and then click “Search.”[This alert was originally published in GSNJ Newsletter.]
Restricted Access to the SSDI and How You Can Help (Fall 2014)
The Social Security Death Index (SSDI) is a commercially available version of the Social Security Death Master File. Created by the Social Security Administration (SSA) and available publicly since 1980, the SSDI contains information on over 83 million Americans whose deaths have been reported to the SSA. Deaths are listed from as early as 1936, although the vast majority of listings are from 1964 forward.
Information found in the SSDI can be of immense value to genealogists. The index includes birth and death dates, social security numbers, and zip codes associated with both the last listed address and the address to which the final benefit payment was sent. Unfortunately, this information, which is so useful to genealogists, can make the index vulnerable to exploitation.
In recent years, the fraudulent use of social security numbers has resulted in numerous requests to restrict access to the SSDI. These efforts reached fruition in December 2013 with the passage of the 2014 Bipartisan Budget Bill. Section 203 of the bill restricts access to information about individuals who died within the last three years. Access is allowed only to certified individuals under a new program established by the Department of Commerce—not to genealogists and family historians. Additionally, in November 2011, the SSA stopped including middle initials and middle names of individuals, as well as the year and state in which the SSN was issued. These restrictions make it harder to find information on family members, especially if the person being researched has a common name.
The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC) is an umbrella organization trying to restore access to these important records. RPAC is a joint committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society, and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies. Participating members also include the Association of Professional Genealogists, the Board for Certification of Genealogists, the International Commission for the Accreditation of Professional Genealogists, the American Society of Genealogists, ProQuest, and Ancestry.com.
RPAC’s focus is on helping to coordinate the efforts of individuals and societies as they respond to access and preservation challenges at the local, state, and national level. As such, they recommend that individual researchers and societies contact their elected officials (either in person or by letter) and request that Section 203 of the Bipartisan Budget Bill be amended. RPAC recommends making two suggestions to improve the usability of the SSDI again. The first is that only the SSN be withheld during the three-year embargo period, since it is the only part of the record that can lead to identity theft. The second is that the SSA release all available information so that people can be correctly and more certainly identified in the index.
GSNJ has added a sample letter, provided by RPAC, to our website: www.gsnj.org. We have also included a separate page of talking points in case you have the opportunity to speak to your federal legislators in person. Copies of both the sample letter and the talking points can also be found at the RPAC website: www.fgs.org/rpac/.[This alert was originally published in GSNJ Newsletter.]
United States House of Representatives Bill 3475: Keeping IDs Safe Act of 2011 (Spring 2012)
The genealogical community is presently at risk of losing access to the Social Security Death Index (SSDI). H.R. 3475, a bill sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson (R-Texas), chairman of the Social Security Subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, and others, would close this important resource forever in the name of protecting families from having the social security numbers of deceased children stolen and used by identity thieves. Other pending bills – S. 1534 (Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Florida) and H.R. 3482 and H.R. 3215 (Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Florida) – are more targeted and focus on closing the records only for a period of time. The bills are still flawed, however, since they fail to provide current access to the records for forensic genealogists and others who need them on a daily basis, for example in their work for the military and on probate cases.
Hearings held in early February showed that the driving force behind the current crop of proposals is the fear that identity thieves are making use of the online availability of the SSDI to find social security numbers of the recently deceased (particularly children) and filing fraudulent tax refund claims using those numbers. No evidence that the SSDI is being used in that manner exists; however, evidence exists that identity thieves stealing social security numbers of the living (particularly children) is a far greater problem, and one that is not addressed by the legislation at all.
The truth is that the SSDI (the Death Master File) is a key tool in preventing identity theft. The records are used every day by health care providers, the military, financial institutions, attorneys, insurance agencies, universities, funeral directors, credit agencies, and governmental agencies to prevent fraud. Closing the records will do far more harm than good.
The Records Preservation and Access Committee (RPAC), an umbrella group representing the Federation of Genealogical Societies (including the Genealogical Society of New Jersey, which has a state liaison to RPAC), the National Genealogical Society and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies, has taken the lead in asking Congress to focus on the real issues of identity theft without scapegoating the SSDI. The thrust of RPAC’s argument is that identity theft can best be prevented by using the records, not by closing them. It has spearheaded a petition drive and other efforts but it will need the assistance of all genealogists to defeat the attack on the SSDI.
First, genealogists should educate themselves on the issues. RPAC’s talking points on the SSDI, copies of statements made on the proposed bills, a link to the online petition and more are readily accessible online at the RPAC website: www.fgs.org/rpac/. Several blog writers are closely following the debates and reporting on developments, including Massachusetts Genealogical Council President Polly Kimmitt (pk-pollyblog.blogspot.com/) and GSNJ member Judy G. Russell, blogging as The Legal Genealogist (legalgenealogist.com/blog).
Second, genealogists should contact their own Members of Congress and United States Senators to oppose legislation that would end public access to the SSDI and support legislation that would compel government agencies to use the records to prevent identity theft. For example, the IRS should check every tax return against the SSDI and prior returns to ensure that no identity thief can use information about a recently deceased person in a fraudulent return. Parents should be able to “lock” a child’s social security number to their own, particularly upon the death of a child.
Although individually written letters get far better response from elected officials, sample letters can be found at the RPAC website, at the website of the Council for the Advancement of Forensic Genealogy (www.forensicgenealogists.com/Resources.html) and at the website of the Massachusetts Genealogical Council (www.massgencouncil.com), among others. Contact information for House members can be found at www.house.gov/representatives and contact information for U.S. Senators can be found at www.senate.gov/general/contact_information/senators_cfm.cfm.[This alert was originally published in GSNJ Newsletter.]
GSNJ Opposes the Budget Proposal to Split New Jersey’s Division of Archives and Records Management (2006)
Your help is needed to keep New Jersey’s Division of Archives and Records Management (DARM) together. The following Action Alert was provided by the Advocates for New Jersey History. Please read it, forward it, help spread the word, please contact your state government as soon as possible, urging them to keep the State Archives together with Records Management. Read the Action Alert!
New Jersey Assembly Bill 1390 (February 2006) Establishes guidelines for dissemination of vital records.
- A1390 Summary, Recommendations, and Legislative Contact Information
- GSNJ letter to A1390 Sponsor Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (Feb 2006) regarding A1390 and language to support current regulations governing access to vital record
Sample Letters: Society/Organization LetterIndividual Letter GSNJ is working with the Advocates for New Jersey History to propose changes to this bill. We have met with Assemblywoman Quigley to discuss our concerns and to suggest language that will continue to allow genealogical and historical researchers access to vital records. News on this subject will be posted to the GSNJ mailing list (below). Updates on this and other legislative issues will also continue to appear in the GSNJ Newsletter.
New Jersey Assembly Bill 330—Governing Provision of Certified Copies and Certifications of Vital Records
New Jersey Assembly Bill 330 Specifies policy governing provision by State registrar of certified copies and certifications of vital records to applicants.
Access to New Jersey State Vital Records, AB3806 (2005)
The Honorable Joan M. Quigley, Deputy Speaker, New Jersey Assembly
“While we recognize the need to protect the privacy of individuals, we are seeking a balanced solution that will allow appropriate access to the family history information that the genealogical community desires while still providing the security for records you support. We respectfully suggest a small, but important, amendment to accommodate the legitimate interests of family historians.”
Letter to State Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (April 2005) regarding AB3806 and language to support current regulations governing access to vital records.
Letter to State Senators and Assemblymen in Support of Budget (2005)
The Honorable Senator Wayne R. Bryant, Chair, Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee
The Honorable Senator Sharpe James, Vice-Chair, Senate Budget & Appropriations Committee
The Honorable Assemblyman Louis D. Greenwald Chair, Assembly Budget Committee
The Honorable Assemblyman William D. Payne Vice-Chair, Assembly Budget Committee
The Honorable Senator Bernard F. Kenny, Jr., Senate Democratic Majority Leader
The Honorable Assemblyman Joseph J. Roberts Jr., Assembly Majority Leader
The Honorable Assemblyman Albio Sires Assembly Speaker
The Honorable Assemblywoman Bonnie Watson-Coleman Chair, Assembly Appropriations Committee
The Honorable Assemblywoman Nellie Pou, Vice-Chair Assembly Appropriations Committee
Barbara Fulton Moran, Executive Director, The New Jersey Cultural Trust
Dr. Marc Mappan, Executive Director, New Jersey Historical Commission
Secretary of State Regena L. Thomas, Office of the Secretary
GSNJ Position (Excerpt):
“…we ask the Legislature to preserve the dedicated funding in the hotel/motel tax for the New Jersey Historical Commission and the New Jersey Cultural Trust. (We continue to look forward to the day that both the Historical Commission and the Cultural Trust can be restored to their full funding levels.)”
Letter to State Senators and Assemblymen (April 2005) encouraging their support of Acting Governor Codey’s proposed budget.
Regarding Price Increases for Birth and Death Records (2005)
Joseph A. Komosinski, State Registrar, Department of Health & Senior Services
GSNJ Position (Excerpt):
“…GSNJ asks that the Department reconsider and reject proposals to raise the fees to $25.00 for all types of records, instead instituting a tiered fee structure in keeping with the tiered structure of the copies and services provided. GSNJ requests that the Department reconsider and reject the proposal redefining the term “genealogical records” as applied to death records, instead maintaining the current definition of 40 years as “genealogical.” Further, GSNJ urges the Department of Health and Senior Services to give serious consideration to transferring vital records in the genealogical time periods to the NJ State Archives and to continue to transfer additional records on a regular basis.”
Letter to New Jersey State Registrar Komosinski (March 2005) regarding price increase for birth and death records as outlined in NJAC 8:2, NJAC 8:2A and NJAC 8:2B; Proposals Numbered: PRN 2005-14; PRN 2005-15; and PRN 2005-16.
Regarding S.2845 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004
The Honorable Frank Lautenberg, United States Senator
GSNJ Position (Excerpt):
“We believe that this amendatory language is imperative so that the states do not react by restricting all birth certificates to comply with the law, rather than dealing with certified as opposed to non-certified birth certificates. The proposed additional language would remind state and local government agencies that historical and genealogical requests for older records can and should be treated differently than requests for birth certificates of potentially living persons. Moreover, the proposed amendment does not detract from the intent of the bill to provide the security the nation needs to prohibit the misuse of certified copies of birth records. In New Jersey, we have already witnessed extreme restrictions on historical vital records, including marriage and death records from as early as 1878, in part as a result of federal guidelines. The additional language proposed above will allow the states to comply with the law without jeopardizing the legitimate use of government records for family and medical history research.”
Letter to US Senators Lautenberg/Corzine (December 2004) regarding S.2845 Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Act of 2004.
Regarding New Jersey Bureau of Vital Statistics Records Access Policies (2002)
The Honorable Loretta Weinberg, Assemblywoman, 37th District
GSNJ Position (Excerpt):
“We would like to offer suggestions concerning changes to state policy and, potentially, legislation that would provide solutions to the numerous problems currently surrounding public access to records held by [the Bureau of Vital Statistics] BVS. We propose the following:
• Requiring BVS to legally transfer birth, marriage and death certificates to the State Archives following a reasonable time period for each record type, and providing the Archives with adequate funding, staff resources and equipment to implement an additional search service for these records. The schedule below would allow for adequate protection of the privacy of living persons as well as reasonable measures relative to identity fraud. It would also allow BVS to maintain its current search requirements for recent records:
– Birth certificates and any corresponding indexes regularly transferred after 100 years
– Marriage certificates and any corresponding indexes regularly transferred after 75 years
– Death certificates and any corresponding indexes regularly transferred after 50 years
• In the interest of family health history, either compel BVS to relax its policy of redacting the cause of death for older death certificates or, if necessary, change the policy via simple legislation or regulation. In either case, it can certainly be argued that after a decade or two the public benefit of disclosing the cause of death for health-history reasons greatly outweighs any considerations relative to the privacy of the long deceased.”
Letter to State Assemblywoman Loretta Weinberg (July 2002) regarding NJ Bureau of Vital Statistics records access policies.
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