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House of Representatives
Session of 2017 - 2018 Regular Session


Posted: February 2, 2018 11:37 AM
From: Representative John A. Lawrence
To: All House members
Subject: COSPONSOR MEMO – Addressing the Coming Wave of Birth Certificate Requests with the Implementation of REAL ID


With an impending tsunami of birth certificate requests coming due to the implementation of REAL ID, we need to take an “all of the above” strategy to prevent the current system, plagued with delays, from collapsing. Years of poor planning and improper funding has left the Department of Vital Records underfunded and unprepared to handle this core government function, and legislative action needs to be taken to address the situation. This proposal aims to address the problem without raising the $20 birth certificate fee by taking the following steps:
  • Empower local registrars, who currently deal solely with death certificates, with the ability to issue birth certificates
  • Redirect $5 of the current $20 fee charged for a Birth Certificate to the Department of Vital Records for the specific purpose of hiring and training employees to process birth certificates. Currently, $0 of the $20 fee goes to the Dept of Vital Records.
  • Direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to review the process for the issuance of birth certificates from top to bottom, with suggestions on how to improve the process going forward.


Colleagues, as you are aware, the General Assembly passed SB 133 earlier this session to create a two-tier system for the issuance of Driver’s Licenses and ID cards. Going forward, residents will be able to choose either a standard or a REAL ID compliant credential. Other states that have taken this two-tier approach have seen a 20%-30% participation rate in REAL ID compliant cards. The Federal Government has issued very particular requirements for the issuance of a REAL ID, including the requirement that each individual must present a long-form birth certificate with a raised seal (similar to the requirement for issuance of a passport.) This long-form birth certificate was not issued as a standard practice until very recently, and most Pennsylvanians do not have a long-form birth certificate. If Pennsylvania sees a similar uptake in REAL ID participation as what other states have experienced, the Department of Vital Records, and our legislative offices, will be barraged with hundreds of thousands of requests for long-form birth certificates. We are not ready.

Unfortunately, the process for issuing birth certificates in Pennsylvania is badly broken. Obtaining a long-form birth certificate in Pennsylvania in a hurry is not easy. There are only THREE LOCATIONS statewide maintained by the Division of Vital Records where an individual can walk in, pay, and walk out with a birth certificate – Erie, Pittsburgh, and Scranton. Walk up counters in Philadelphia and Harrisburg have longer processing times. Requests for birth certificates received via mail currently face a FIVE MONTH processing time. Even the approved third-party online vendor, VitalChek, takes between 3-16 weeks to process a birth certificate. By comparison, an individual born in Maryland can obtain a birth certificate across the counter, same day, in any county across the state.

In researching the issue, I wanted to know why there are such delays, since citizens are paying $20 for a birth certificate. It was surprising to learn that none of the $20 goes to the Department of Health, or the Division of Vital Records, to help pay for this service. Of the $20 fee, $10 goes to the General Fund, $7.50 goes to the PCCD for child advocacy centers, and $2.50 goes to DHS (formerly DPW) for training of mandated reporters of child abuse. It seems to me that if we want to cut down on wait times, we need to direct some of the funding to the Department of Vital Records. It only makes sense that people requesting birth certificates help pay for the government they are using.

In my view, there are a great number of reasons as to why the state finds itself in this disastrous position, and there is culpability across several administrations. With that being said, I would like to get some reality-based solutions in place as soon as possible. We need to get more people issuing certificates, correct the funding issues, and make sure fix the system so we don’t end up in the same place a few years down the road.

With this in mind, this legislation will take a multi-pronged approach as follows:
  • There are over 200 Registrars across Pennsylvania today. A Registrar is an appointed position that historically dealt with birth records, but today deals primarily with the issuance of death certificates. They are appointed officials, not employees of the state. Registrars are paid for each death certificate they issue, and importantly, the computer system they utilize for issuance of death certificates is the same system used to issue birth certificates. This proposal will give Registrars the opportunity to issue birth certificates. The advantage to this idea is that we have a number of qualified individuals who already have access to the necessary computer system who can be ready to issue birth certificates with minimal training. Registrars would receive $4 out of the $20 fee paid for a birth certificate.

  • Taxpayers expect that when they pay for a service, that at least some of that payment goes to actually provide for the service. Currently, none of the $20 paid for a birth certificate issued by the Department of Vital Records goes to the Department of Vital Records – in fact, half ($10) goes to the General Fund. This proposal will redirect $5 of the $10 that currently goes to the General Fund to the DVR. This revenue stream will be specifically for hiring and training employees to process birth certificates.
  • This proposal also directs the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to review the process for the issuance of birth certificates from top to bottom, with suggestions on how to improve the process going forward.
Your support of this legislation would be greatly appreciated. In addition, I would welcome your thoughts or suggestions on other ideas to make this legislation stronger. Thank you.

Introduced as HB84