On Thursday, a state house bill that would simplify the process for Native Americans seeking delayed birth certificates passed a key legislative committee. As Arizona Public Radio’s Ryan Heinsius reports, if ultimately passed by the legislature, the bill is expected to ease many hardships encountered by tribal members.
Many Native Americans born in rural parts of Arizona before 1970 were never issued birth certificates. And obtaining one later in life has often been be a years-long, costly process. Getting a driver’s license, receiving Social Security and retirement benefits, and voting are all dependent on having a birth certificate. HB 2157 would reduce the number of documents needed and allow the state registrar to work on a case-by-case basis with applicants.
Since 2009, District 5 Coconino County Supervisor Lena Fowler has been an advocate for reforming the process.
“It really does create a lot of hardship in the daily lives of these people, struggles and just a lot of confusion. I am just so happy. People’s quality of life is going to improve. They’re going to be able to exercise their full rights,” Fowler says.
Fowler testified before the House Government and Higher Education Committee, which unanimously passed the bill. HB 2157 will now go to the full house for consideration. Last fall, the state health department temporarily streamlined the process, but the bill would make those changes permanent.