ALERT to proposed changes to access to Vital Records
in the State of Washington, SB 5332-2019-20.

Currently, Washington is an open records state.  Change has been proposed by the Dept. of Health to restrict access to Vital Records in our state.  DOH is proposing changes based on a “best practices” in vital records control and recommendations from the Federal Government, citing privacy concerns and identity theft.   These changes will affect all genealogists!

Here is a brief summary of the proposed changes:
Placing restrictions on release of records to the public:

  • 100 years for live birth and fetal death
  • 50 years for death, marriage, divorce, annulment, legal separation and dissolution of domestic partnerships

Placing restrictions on who certified copies of Vital Records (birth, death, marriage, and divorce) may be released to:

  • Birth Certificates will only be released to the “subject of the record” (yourself), the subject’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, step-parent, sibling, grandparent, legal guardian, legal representative or authorized representative before the 100 year embargo.
  • Death Certificates will be released to the decedent’s spouse or domestic partner, child, parent, step-parent, sibling, grandparent, grandchild, legal guardian immediately prior to death, legal representative, authorized representative or next of kin as specified in RCW 11.28.120 before the 50 year embargo.
  • Certificate of Fetal Death will be released to a parent, a parent’s legal representative, an authorized representative, sibling or a grandparent before the 100 year embargo.

New Provisions: 

  • The State may issue an informational copy to a vital record to anyone.  Informational copies must contain only the information “allowed by rule”.
  • Informational death copies will not include information related to the cause of death and manner of death.
  • “Authorized representative” will include genealogists.  This will require a notarized letter of permission from next of kin and personal identification.
  • Applicants will be required to provide identification and proof of relationship to obtain certified copies of vital records.

WSGS has been working with the Records Preservation and Access Committee of the Federation of Genealogical Societies, the National Genealogical Society and the International Association of Jewish Genealogical Societies on this issue.
WSGS has taken the position that:

  • Vital Records are the backbone of our profession and hobby.  Access to these records is essential to our work and embargo periods to records are unnecessarily restrictive.
  • We support keeping all Vital Records open.  Access to vital records has not been demonstrated to increase the risk of identity theft.  We believe that keeping birth, marriage, divorce and death records open does more to prevent identity theft.
  • Keeping the cause of death on Informational Death Records is essential to genetic and forensic genealogists.
  • We support proposed changes to cover the cost for providing access to Vital Records.
  • Redaction of Social Security numbers on an Informational Copies of Vital Records is supported.

We are asking all of you to please contact your local Senator, the members of the Senate Law and Justice Committee and the sponsors of the bill; Sen. Jamie Pederson, Sen. Ann Rivers, Sen. Claire Wilson, Sen. Maureen Walsh, Sen. Emily Randall, Sen. Annette Cleveland and Sen. Marko Liias.  This bill is scheduled for a hearing before the Senate Law and Justice Committee on Thursday, Jan. 31, 2019 at 10am.  Please submit your comments before Thursday!
The proposed changes to the Vital Records Initiative, SB 5332 – 2019 – 20, can be read in its entirety at the link below.  You use this link to access a copy of the bill and/or make comments.
https://app.leg.wa.gov/billsummary?BillNumber=5332&year-2019&Initiative=False

Thank you for your attention.  Sincerely,
Virginia Majewski, President, Washington State Genealogical Society

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