We are concerned about the latest attempt to create more restrictions on public access to government records.

A new bill, LD 1781, has been proposed that would seal birth, marriage and death records for 100 years. The bill received support from the Health and Human Services Committee of the Legislature, which held a public hearing on the issue March 3.

Those who support the bill say it would prevent identity theft.

It is obvious to many observers, however, that the restrictions far outweigh the benefits of this potential legislation.

This bill would be devastating for family historians and those engaged in genealogy research. This activity has grown immensely popular in the past few decades. At the heart of this debate is the concern that restricting this information will mean denying people the right to their own family history.

This information is useful in tracking both the heritage of a family tree and vital medical history that could be helpful in early diagnosis of illnesses with a genetic component.

One example pointed out in a recent article on the bill noted that a woman who found out there was a history in the family of esophageal cancer made an appointment and detected the illness early.

Under the current law, anyone who is concerned about the impact of pollution in their area can research the causes of death in their community. If this bill is enacted, we will have to trust the government to conduct this research for us and to have our best interests at heart.

The bill as it stands now is far too restrictive to even be considered.

We question why Maine’s government feels a need to close more and more records to the public. A few short years ago, hospitals would release information about a patient’s condition following a car crash or fire or other event of public concern. This didn’t mean releasing intimate details, but merely saying whether someone had lived or died, and assigning a level of seriousness to their injuries.

Today, the press is often given absolutely no information and hospital spokesmen say the law prohibits any release of such information.

In recent years, we’ve even seen an effort to make the wages of public officials and employees confidential.

Once a law is on the books, whether or not it is being justly interpreted, it will often end any conversation of the release of information with a flat “no.”

We must give voice to our concerns to prevent the loss of the rights we enjoy.