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Friday, May 14, 2010
Hawaii Signed Law to Ignore Birther Requests
The theorists, known as birthers, have deluged the State Health Department here with so many demands for information about the president’s birth in Hawaii that Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, signed a law this week allowing state agencies to ignore repeated requests from people who have had a request answered in the last year.
It comes none too soon for Health Department workers, who have been inundated with so many requests for the president’s birth records that printouts of the e-mail messages they have received on the topic through March stands some 13 inches high. Each one required a response, and many required consultations with state lawyers.
“It became really, really a burden,” said Janice Okubo, a spokeswoman for the department, who said that handling the hundreds of requests took up huge amounts of the department’s time as it was trying to respond to an H1N1 flu outbreak. Many requests, she said, came from the same handful of people.
By Hawaiian law, birth records can be released only to people with “a direct and tangible” interest in them — a person born in the state, say, or certain relatives or their estates. So when questions about Mr. Obama’s birth first surfaced during the 2008 presidential election, his campaign posted a copy of his “certification of live birth” on a Web site; it states that Barack Hussein Obama II was born in Honolulu on Aug. 4, 1961, at 7:24 p.m.
When questions continued to pour in, the state’s health director, Dr. Chiyome Fukino, announced that she had seen the original records and that they showed that Mr. Obama was “born in Hawaii and is a natural-born American citizen.”
When the questions persisted, the department created a Web page titled “Frequently Asked Questions About Vital Records of President Barack Hussein Obama II.” It did little to assuage the doubters. Some of the e-mail messages were vulgar, others hostile. Health Department workers found themselves vilified on blogs. “Your name will be synonymous with Benedict Arnold by the time this is done,” reads one that is signed “an American natural-born citizen.”
State Senator Will Espero, a Democrat who has a picture in his office of Mr. Obama and Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. standing in front of a Hawaiian flag, said he was dismayed by the persistent questions about the president’s birth. He noted that in 1961, newspapers in Honolulu printed birth announcements, including Mr. Obama’s. “Unless somebody had a great conspiracy going back 40-something years, involving the newspapers and the hospitals, I don’t think there is any doubt,” Mr. Espero said.
He originally introduced a bill that would allow the state to release birth certificates but ran into privacy concerns. Then the Health Department asked for help. So he introduced a bill allowing them to ignore “duplicative” requests that have been answered within the last year. Objections were raised that such a bill could give the government leeway to ignore legitimate requests, so Mr. Espero said the final bill was amended to try to address those concerns.
“Unfortunately, I don’t think it will end the controversy,” Mr. Espero said. “But in terms of our own Department of Health, and their staff and the hours they are putting into this issue, hopefully it will give them a measure of relief and allow them to work on some other issues besides just this birther issue.”
Posted by Jo Ann Brown at 9:37 AM