House Government and Higher Education Committee approves delayed birth certificate bill
STATE CAPITOL, PHOENIX – Today, the House Government and Higher Education Committee approved HB2157 unanimously. Rep. Albert Hale, D-St. Michaels (District 7), introduced the bill, which would codify recent action by the Arizona Department of Health Services to make it easier for Native Americans to obtain a delayed birth certificate in the state.
“This is a very important issue to many communities in Arizona, particularly Native American communities. I am pleased that my colleagues have made correcting this hardship a priority, and I look forward to continuing to work with them to pass this legislation,” Hale said.
Rep. Victoria Steele, D-Tucson (District 9), similarly stressed the value of birth certificates and the positive impact this bill would have on Native Americans in the state.
“A birth certificate is vital for Native Americans to be able to exercise their rights as citizens,” Steele said. “I look forward to working with my colleagues in approving the delayed birth certificate bill.”
This bill would make permanent the Arizona Department of Health Services policy that streamlined the process for Native Americans to receive delayed birth certificates. Previously, getting a delayed birth certificate required producing seven separate forms of verification that a person was born at a specific time and place. Many Native Americans are born at home and do not get a birth certificate issued at the time of birth, and securing the necessary documentation is often difficult. A birth certificate is important documentation for getting social security and other benefits.
Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler testified in support of the bill today. She highlighted the difficulties people face trying to collect the documentation currently needed.
“Native Americans from all reaches of our state have to make several trips to Phoenix and produce various documents to verify that they were born at a specific time and place. It is not uncommon that many of them speak no English. Some are among the most traditional Native Americans and should be considered living treasures. In case after case, it was apparent that all the requirements were both overwhelming and incomprehensible,” she said.
Fowler added that the new process will help all 22 Native American tribes in Arizona. Michael T. Allison, the Native American liaison for the Arizona Department of Health Services, added that this process was developed in consultation with all 22 tribes. There were two official tribal consultation meetings in July and September of 2014.
“This new process has broad tribal support,” Allison said. “The department is very supportive of working with Native American tribes in Arizona and promoting policies that would improve the health of the American Indians in our state.”
Hale, Fowler and Allison expressed gratitude to the House Government and Higher Education Committee Chairman Rep. Bob Thorpe, R-Flagstaff (District 6), and to all members of the committee.
“We are grateful for the bipartisan support this issue has received,” Hale said. “I am looking forward to further collaboration as this bill moves through the legislative process.”
Rep. Benally, D-Tuba City (District 7), expressed strong support for the bill and reiterated the impact it would have for many Native Americans in Arizona.
“I appreciate the work of Mr. Hale, Ms. Fowler and Mr. Allison in addressing the issues associated with delayed birth certificates. I know that in some cases, it took individuals years to get a birth certificate. This will alleviate many of the barriers that slow or prevent people from getting this vital documentation.”
The House Rules Committee will also have to approve the bill before it can be voted on by the entire House.
The full text of HB2157 can be found here.
Rep. Hale is an enrolled member of the Navajo Nation. He was born in Ganado and raised in Klagetoh, Arizona. He is Ashiihi (Salt), born for Todichiini (Bitter Water). His maternal grandparents are Hanaghani (Walk About clan). His paternal grandparents are Kiyanii (Tall House clan). He is a 1969 graduate of Fort Wingate High School, a Bureau of Indian Affairs boarding school located east of Gallup, New Mexico. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree from Arizona State University, Tempe, Arizona (1973), and a Juris Doctor degree from the University of New Mexico School of Law, Albuquerque, New Mexico (1977), and an honorary Juris Doctor degree from Phoenix School of Law (2012). He is the former President of the Navajo Nation.