Friday, December 3, 2010

Open Records in Vermont

As a genealogist, I love that Vermont law allows public access to vital records in most (if not all) of Vermont's town clerks. Obviously, this makes research much easier than in states that have closed-records policies. In general, I can walk into a Vermont town clerk's office, let them know I am there to perform genealogical research, and I am led off to the vault where I am left to do my thing. On occasion, I come across a town clerk that does not allow public access to their vault, but will retrieve books for me. This is a little more cumbersome, and truthfully, annoys the heck out of me, but at least I have access to the records at my will.

According to the Vermont State Legislator's website, Vermont is one of 14 states that maintain an open-records policy for any public records (defined as "all papers, documents, machine readable materials, computer databases, or any other written or recorded matters, regardless of their physical form, that are produced or acquired in the course of agency business”).

A visit to one of Vermont's town clerks provided me with so worrisome information. I was told that the government is fighting toward making Vermont a closed-records state. Upon a bit of online investigation I could not locate any information that verified this.

According to the Vermont State Legislator's website, a closed-records policy goes against the Vermont state constitution. And I quote:
It is the policy of [the Public Records Act] to provide free and open
examination of records consistent with Chapter I, Article 6 of the Vermont
The article, which can be read here, goes on to describe the issue of protecting people's privacy, and how it is not certain how a state can maintain privacy while providing open records. However, my understanding in reading this is that it does go against our state's constitution to become a closed-records state.

What this will mean in the future is uncertain. One can hope that we continue to be an open-records state.

Further information can be found at the Vermont State Archive's website.

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