Should Be Banned from Asking for Obama Birth Certificate

Spokesperson for the Hawaii State Department of Health, Janice Okubo, has had enough. Five to 10 hours a week, she says she and her fellow state workers answer repeated demands from people outside of Hawaii seeking copies of President Barack Obama’s birth certificate.

Official documentation, she points out, that the health department has on file but is not authorized under Hawaii law to release to anyone except the president himself or someone in his immediate family.

The health department has a canned response letter and informational web page to distribute to “birthers” who want proof that Obama was born in Hawaii and not out of the country. Okubo also can refer callers to Obama’s own web site, where he posted what he says is his birth certificate.

Okubo’s official health department response does not include a copy of Obama’s actual birth certificate or confirmation that what Obama posted on his web site is an authentic birth certificate because that is private information. She also cannot confirm whether Obama’s birth certificate was filed the day he was born because that is confidential, but she says that Kapiolani Medical Center has confirmed his birth there on the hospital web site and that it would not be unusual in 1961 before electronic records, that the filing would be delayed up to three days at the Department of Health. But her response does not satisfy everyone. The health department gets follow-up requests as does the state Office of Information Practices, the attorney general and the Department of Human Services.

The “conspiracy theorists” who don’t believe Obama was born in Hawaii take considerable staff resources and make it challenging to respond within the state’s 10-working day requirement, Okubo says. She calls them “vexatious requestors.”

“They seem to think it is funny or fun to make people run around or to waste their time, and it becomes very vexatious and impacts what we have to do for the public - important work,” Okubo says.

The solution to their problem, Okubo hopes, is in Senate Bill 2937, a controversial piece of legislation introduced by Senate Democrats Wil Espero, Kalani English and Michelle Kidani on the state’s behalf, that allows the health department and all other state and county agencies to deem a person “vexatious.”

With that designation, the local government could legally ignore public information requests from anyone they believe has requested information too often or asked too many questions. The length of the ban is undetermined in the draft legislation, Okubo says. During this time, the state would be protected from any related lawsuits from those deemed vexatious.

Despite this being national “sunshine week,” where open government groups around the country are seeking more transparency from their governments, this legislation is quickly moving through the Hawaii State Legislature.

Sen. Sam Slom, R-Hawaii Kai, was the only Hawaii Senator of 25 to oppose the measure. Slom says he has several problems with the legislation, including the fact that it is too broad, too vague and gives too much authority to bureaucrats whose are getting paid to provide information to the public.

“Unless someone makes physical threats or puts the government workers in fear, they should be giving information to those who ask for it,” Slom says.

While the bill originated from health department because of the “birther” issue, the legislation would block people making requests to other public agencies as well, Slom says. “This is a bad bill and it sets a bad precedent as it has wide ranging impacts on people in the future with other issues and other agencies.”

He points out that for years, people have been asking the Hawaii State Department of Education and the Office of Hawaiian Affairs for their expenditures “and they don’t get it.”

“What this bill would allow is further lack of transparency and would shut off sunshine from the public,” Slom adds.

Sen. Les Ihara, D-Kaimuki, who open government groups rely on for advocacy of transparency legislation, voted for the bill because he thought it was “reasonable.” But now he is having second thoughts and says the language might be too broad. “… now there are some concerns that the bill might be used against legitimate requests and requestors. Their concern, and mine, now is that any two criteria listed in the bill could allow OIP to designate a request as vexatious. I’ve got to study the bill further and get more input, but I now have concerns about the criteria being too broad. I do agree with the bill’s purpose to address requests that have no open government purpose, but am concerned that legitimate requests could be denied using this bill.”

The legislation is meeting minimal resistance in the House. It passed out of the Senate on March 3, 2010, by a vote of 24 to 1, over to House, where it was heard in the Judiciary committee on March 12. The committee “deferred” decision making on the bill on March 16 while the Department works with lawmakers on the details, Okubo says.

Rep. Cynthia Thielen, R-Kailua, a member of the Judiciary committee, asks: "Do we really want to be known internationally as the Legislature that blocked any inquiries into where President Obama was born? When people want to get more information, the way to fuel that fire is to say, 'We're now going to draw down a veil of secrecy.’” She was quick to point out that she doesn’t believe the birthers’ claims of a conspiracy regarding President Barack Obama's citizenship, but “does believe that government records should be public, except where there is a privacy right-to-know such as with birth certificates."

Okubo counters that she isn’t opposed to answering questions or providing information to journalists or citizens who have “reasonable” requests. But there are three or four people who keep asking for information and don’t stop, even when the department gives them most everything they request, she says.

“We have had people ask for organizational charts so they can contact every department. They’ve asked for our director’s personal calendar. They want our records retention law, our guidelines, indexes for every birth in Hawaii and old records we no longer have. They are constantly asking for things, tying up our time and the vital records office when we have so many legitimate requests for birth certificates that they can’t get to because they are busy with these ridiculous requests. It is very stressful, especially because some of the letters we receive are not very nice,” Okubo says.

But the health department’s plan doesn’t sit well with Joseph Farah, Editor and Chief Executive Officer of WorldNetDaily (http://www.wnd.com/), a publication that has dug deeply into the furry over Obama’s yet unproduced birth certificate.

His take: "When government responds to an avalanche of public concern over issues like the constitutional eligibility of the president by clamming up and refusing to address them, we've got a real problem in this country. Perhaps Hawaii officials haven't heard that in the U.S. we're supposed to have a government of the people, by the people and for the people. A logical response to widespread public clamor to see a public record as innocent and critical as the president's birth certificate should have been answered long ago with the release of the document. Nothing would stop the phone calls and the letters faster than transparency and public accountability.”

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NOTE: AngelGroup agrees with Sam Slom. The legislation is way too broad and allows OIP to withhold information on whatever grounds, without disclosure. 


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