An early and long-standing county service has been the responsibility of maintaining vital records. In 1891, Washington State required each county to keep vital records on births and deaths for their citizens. In 1907 the state assumed this responsibility but maintains local programs who operate as local registrars.
Vital records (a FPHS focus area!) are reports of all specific vital life events in the state and include; births, deaths, fetal deaths, marriages, dissolutions, annulments, and legal separations. These records serve as proof of these life events and are used to provide proof of citizenship, obtain government documents such as a passport or driver’s license, enroll a child in school, obtain Social Security or enroll in benefits.
Under current law, the State Department of Health retains permanent custody of all vital records – most of which are now housed in a vital records data system. There are over 14 million vital records that date back to 1907 – and over 200,000 new records are added each year.
SB 5332 proposes to modernize our state vital records law (chapter 70.58 RCW) because current law has limited protections against identifying theft and fraud. Many advancements in consumer protection have happened since 1907 – the last time the statute was significantly updated. We’re 100 years overdue for updates.
Proposed language changes were made in partnership with state and local registrars and is consistent with the National Center for Health Statistics and National Association for Public Health Statistics and Information Systems. Primary changes focus on: limiting certified copies of records to people legally related to the subject, create a short form death certificate that is allowed to the public (such as media and genealogists), and allows access for research purposes.
Another important part of the proposed changes is a fee increase. Without this fee increase, the vital records system will become obsolete by 2023 and it will become harder for local health jurisdictions to provide same day service to their residents. The fee increase will be split between state and local vital records programs and the county coroners for their disease investigation account.
SB 5332 was heard and passed out of Senate Law and Justice, heard and passed out of Ways and Means, and is heading to the Senate floor.