I need your help. Some of you may be aware that Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an official opinion responding to the Fort Bend County Attorney's request regarding Sec. 552.147 of the Government Code [the Public Information Act], which was added by the 79th Legislature as SB 1485.
The AG opinion addresses the issue of redaction of Social Security numbers prior to county clerks releasing a copy of a public record.
Several years ago the mortgage and lending industry in the state of Texas required SSN’s on Deed of Trusts and other documents for verification of identity and to reduce fraud. This also happened in other states such as Oklahoma and New Mexico. A statement on the signatory page was place at the top stating: if you are a natural person…. You may strike/ omit your SSN. Not a bad idea right? The SSN on the document helps fight against fraud, and if a person really doesn’t want it on there, don’t write it (in theory anyway, the mortgage co. would probably require it regardless). Here in lies the rub. Such documents must be recorded at the County Clerks office. Recorded = Public Record. Uh Oh, now we have the documents of public record with SSN’s on them. Not to mention Birth and Death Records.
To read the opinion, Click Here
Here is the problem. As of Monday February 26, 2007 County Clerks across the state have had to restrict access to public records. I work in the Oil and Gas industry. I live in the county clerks office searching through public records everyday to research title and ownership. Due to the production of minerals in the particular area that I am in, there may be up to 40 people searching these records on a given day. The County Clerk is allowing 2 people in at a time to search the records for no longer than 20 minutes. You must sign in on a waiting list to get in. A clerk is watching over your shoulder at all times. I spend about 15-20 hrs a week in a clerk’s office…. Well I used to anyway. If you do the math you can see my predicament, I can’t do my job. Regardless of what industry you’re in, if you can’t do a job effectively and timely it costs you and your company money. We all know what happens when companies start loosing money. People loose jobs. I have been told other county clerk offices have shut the doors completely until further notice. Many counties are only allowing their clerks to handle instruments with SSN. Other than raising their right hand and taking an oath what makes these clerks different from anybody else. Have these clerks had a back ground check.
I recognize the issue and danger of having the SSN accessible to the public. My SSN is in there too! But shutting down and restricting the records in this manner is asinine.
How does this affect you? Depending on the area, Counties make a nice chunk of change on copies and recording of such records as deeds, deed of trusts, probate, etc. Who needs these copies? Attorneys, Realtors, Lenders, Mortgage brokers, Landmen, Oil Companies, Title Companies… the list goes on. If such entities cannot effectively and timely search and obtain information and / or copies of needed documents of Public Record the economy will reap the percussions along with the industries. Title Insurance premiums will sky rocket. The price of buying a house will increase. Attorney fees will increase. Job losses will incur in the above mentioned industries. Your county will lose money. Especially these smaller communities will be hit hard because their County Courthouses are loosing significant monies. All of these counties loosing money will add up to a loss to the state. The State of Texas had a budget surplus this year. This surplus is due in part by the revenue generated by mineral production; if this production is slowed or terminated it is the state and counties that will suffer.
Latest update: There is an emergency bill scheduled for hearing before the House Committee at 9:00 am this Wednesday morning. It is scheduled to go to the House floor next week with a senate version of the bill following right behind it. I will have a copy of the amended bill later today.
Please let your local representatives know the urgency of this situation. Write or E-mail your State Representatives! Let them know the effects it has on you the citizen, tax payer, and voter; the local economy; and your industry. Use the link below to get contact information for your regional State Representatives.
The media has been slow to get the word out. Articles listed below.