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Can someone get the light?

March 17, 2008 - Jennifer Houtman
Last week I went to the Marietta City Health Department to request a certified copy of my daughter's birth certificate.

A certified copy cost me $20, somewhat of a shock when you consider that a birth certificate is a public record and should be readily available to anyone. I know a lot of people who would think twice upon seeing that $20 price tag. What good is a public record if you can't afford it? Also a shock was the discovery that the birthdate on the document was incorrect!

I suppose I might have been able to view the document for free. But to walk away with a copy everyone must pay $20. A clerk at the department said they cannot issue non-certified copies. So, it's $20 or you walk out empty handed. Parents know you need to present a birth certificate for kindergarten registration, college, the list goes on.

Of the $20, almost half goes to the city's general fund. A sign on the wall at the health department said that was state mandated. The clerk I talked to also said the decision that local health departments cannot issue non-certified copies is a state health department rule.

I have a couple of issues with this, but the main issue is that birth and death records are public records. That means anyone can request them and should be able to view them - and get copies of them. The state of Ohio has said a reasonable cost for a copy of a public record is 5 cents. Still, many government agencies charge much more. So while the state's attorney general's office wants all government agencies to follow the spirit, if not the letter of the law, the state's own departments are able to sidestep it.

This week is Sunshine Week, one week out of the year access to open records is highlighted coast to coast. We all use and seek public records every day. Accident reports, land transfers, genealogy records - all are available because Ohio law says they must be. That's a good thing.

It's unfortunate you still have to pay and arm and a leg to get them.


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