XENIA — Greene County Archives is celebrating the passage of House Bill 139, a long-time-coming bill that will lift public access restrictions on records scheduled for permanent retention 75 years after their creation.
Governor John Kasich signed the bill into law Jan. 7. It will go into effect Sunday, April 7, opening up records for public access. Greene County Archivist Robin Heise said these types of records — which are required to be kept permanently statewide — were previously, in some counties, simply put away on shelves, and couldn’t be shown to the public.
This bill changes that.
“Now the public is able to access the information that is in there,” Heise said. “It’s important for the entire state of Ohio because it’s making these permanent records accessible to the public and to researchers. There’s a lot of useful information — not just for genealogical purposes — but if you’re looking for medical history of your family, if you’re looking for demographic history in a particular area, it’s all in these records.”
Counties have varying laws for the disclosure of permanently retained records. In many of the 88 counties these records were not open before the bill passed; in Greene County, they already were.
But Greene County archivists and historians over the years clearly knew how important this accessibility was not just for them, but for everyone in the state.
“It’s been a long journey,” said Heise at a celebratory open house Jan. 25, noting that although she’s been involved the last seven years, the effort pre-dates her, going back more than 20 years ago.
“We’ve come a long way,” she continued, “and although the people have changed along the way and the House numbers have changed along the way, the basis behind this was the same: We wanted to create additional access to these records, these very vital records. And make sure that people know that history matters and these are important records so we want to open them up.”
The bill also names a list of exceptions to the 75-year mark for disclosure. But records that will open up in April statewide include county home registers, children’s home registers, inheritance tax records and veterans’ relief records. Heise called these records a “wealth of information.”
“You can see here all individuals are from the same family,” she said, looking at a page from the county home register. “And they’re all from Tennessee. They lived in Greene County for four months, ages ranging from 3 to 50. So there’s a story there with that family. Something happened that made them relocate here.”
Rep. Rick Perales, a lead sponsor of the bill, visited Greene County Archives to commend the organization on their persistent work toward the passing of the bill.
“This is about people out there that see an issue, see a problem, and fix it,” Perales said. “They did the legwork — you guys got on board and you did everything … I just think your involvement, us working together, all coming together really made this work … This is a model on getting a bill through.”
Calling the accomplishment a “tremendous effort,” Perales issued a proclamation to Heise’s staff and one to Dennis Hetzel, president and executive director of Ohio News Media Association, who supported the cause, realizing that the bill would help journalists, too. Heise said they were all involved with testimony during the process.
“This was really a grassroots effort,” she said.
Other records are subject to local court rulings statewide — like court adoption records and court lunacy records, Heise explained. Current ruling by the Ohio Supreme Court says that it is up to each county judge as to whether or not the records are open in the respective county. In Greene County, these court records, too, are open 75 years after creation.
Heise said she plans to work with the Ohio Supreme Court to open up those records statewide.