Hawaii passes bill to curb clamor for Obama birth certificate
By Dan Nakaso
Advertiser Staff Writer
State Sen. Will Espero doesn't believe for a second that the end of the "birther" conspiracy theory is near, but he hopes lawmakers gave understaffed and overwhelmed Health Department officials a new tool against persistent requests for President Obama's Hawai'i birth certificate.
A bill heading toward the desk of Republican Gov. Linda Lingle lets any Hawai'i department ignore repeated requests for information from the same person — if the department already has responded within a year.
Lingle has until July 6 to sign, veto or let the bill become law without her signature.
"We will be reviewing it," Lingle spokesman Russell Pang said.
Although the bill was supported by other state agencies, Espero aimed it specifically at the Health Department and the continuing demand for Obama's birth records from Mainland residents who question whether the president was born in the United States.
"This had to do with an issue that's gone national," said Espero, D-20th, ('Ewa Beach, Waipahu), who believes Obama was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961.
"Because of that national interest, there were dozens — hundreds — of requests coming from the Mainland. And that's highly unusual for your typical workweek, for any department or agency."
The Health Department even created a special page on its website devoted to the issue of Obama's birth certificate and who is eligible to get the records.
"We still get requests every day," Health Department spokeswoman Janice Okubo said yesterday. "They're usually all the same. We can answer them five times that they don't have a right to a record. And, in the end, I tell them, 'I've already responded to your request. I'm not sure what more I can do for you.' "
Hawai'i's disclosure law (Hawai'i Revised Statutes 338-18), states the Health Department "shall not permit inspection of public health statistics records, or issue a certified copy of any such record or part thereof, unless it is satisfied that the applicant has a direct and tangible interest in the record."
Those who have "direct and tangible interest" are generally limited to the person named in the record, the spouse, parent, descendant or personal representative; someone who is involved in marital, parental or death litigation involving the person's vital record, or who has some other legal reason established by a court order; and various official agency or organization representatives, including the state director of health, according to the law.
State Health Director Dr. Chiyome Fukino — a Republican who vouched for the authenticity of Obama's birth certificate — testified in March that "the time and state resources it takes to respond to these often convoluted inquiries are considerable. The responses ultimately have required the time and involvement of the Attorney General's Office and the Office of Information Practices."
Fukino called the demand on the Health Department "a frivolous use of department time and resources, particularly since the outcome will not change no matter how many times we respond to these requests."
The language in Espero's original draft would have allowed state agencies to identify people who persistently request the same records as "vexatious requestors."
State Tax Director Kurt Kawafuchi even testified that legislators could consider fining vexatious requestors.
"Another alternative could be to have the government's attorneys fees paid by the vexatious requestor if the government is successful in litigation," Kawafuchi testified.
In the end, lawmakers trimmed the "vexatious requestor" language from the bill.
Espero knows the issue of Obama's birth certificate will hardly end — with or without Lingle's signature.
"This responds to one individual's persistent requests, who gets the same answer day in and day out," Espero said. "It's not going to stop the public from making requests and it won't stop any organized effort. Some of them are just so rabid in their dislike for the president."