January 28, 2011

House committee hears proposal to double fees for birth, death certificates

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By Abby Rogers
Abby@MarylandReporter.com

Legislative budget analysts are recommending the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene double the price of birth and death certificates from $12 to $24 a piece as a way to raise $7.9 million for fiscal 2012.

Maryland currently charges $12 for each copy of a vital record, including birth certificates, death certificates, and marriage certificates. In 2003, the last time the Department of Legislative Services analyzed vital record fees, Maryland ranked among the lowest and have remained comparatively low, according to the budget report that analyst Simon Powell presented to the Health and Human Resources Appropriations subcommittee.

Secretary Joshua Sharfstein

Health and Mental Hygiene Secretary Joshua Sharfstein

Powell recommended doubling the cost for a copy of each record to $24.

The Department of Legislative Services also recommended local health departments increase the fee they collect for processing and issuing birth certificates from $10 to $20.

While he agreed the budget is “pretty frugal,” Health Secretary Joshua Sharfstein said he had some concerns about raising the cost of death certificates.

On average, families need about 10 death certificates, for insurance claims, creditors and other reasons, Frances Phillips, deputy secretary for public health services said.

“The impact on families would be quite significant,” she said.

Neighboring states charge more for vital records, they offer discounts when a resident needs multiple copies of a certificate, which Maryland does not, Phillips said. Sharfstein said he is prepared to move on raising the cost for copies of birth certificates, however.

Toward the end of the department’s budget hearing, some discussion focused on a failed information technology program that was supposed to make birth certificates, death certificates and other information available online to Marylanders.

“Frankly the project has been significantly behind schedule,” Powell said. “The project manager has been completely inadequate.”

According to Powell’s report, the program is at least18 months behind schedule. While the birth records system went live in January 2010, the rest of the project will not be going forward. Of the original funding, $600,000 remains, which will be used for additional project planning to find gaps in the current system and to find the best way to move forward, according to the report.

“We have spent so much on IT systems that don’t work,” committee chairwoman Del. Mary-Dulany James, D-Harford said. “We in government seem to be always really struggling more than the private sector.”