Jeff Jardine

Stanislaus County insecure when it comes to supply of secure document paper

Donna Linder, assistant county clerk recorder, holds security paper used to print birth, death and marriage certificates.
Donna Linder, assistant county clerk recorder, holds security paper used to print birth, death and marriage certificates.

Birth, marriage and death, and generally in that order.

They all require certificates of authenticity, which are available at the clerk-recorder’s office in the county of origin.

But for a limited time only, people wanting copies of these vital documents from the Stanislaus County Clerk-Recorder’s office will be limited to just one of each. Seriously.

The Ohio-based company that produced the etched and embossed anti-counterfeit security imprints intended to keep thieves from creating an imaginary person to steal real money recently closed without warning. There are no others in the United States currently licensed or capable of making the so-called Intaglio printed security features that meet California’s standards. One distributor considers Intaglio the “gold standard for security printing.”

“It’s not a paper shortage,” said Lee Lundrigan, Stanislaus County’s clerk-recorder and registrar of voters. “It’s the printing on the paper.”

Only recently did Lundrigan and other government officials around the state learn of the company’s closure and the headache it will cause. Hence, the one-per-family limit until either a new supplier can be found or the state Legislature amends the Health and Safety Code to allow security measures that don’t require the highly specialized Intaglio printing method.

For fees ranging from $15 to $28, her office prints and certifies the requested documents on the pre-secured paper. The office distributes 100 to 150 each business day, Assistant Clerk-Recorder Donna Linder said.

The printed borders are raised and obvious to the touch. Each is – or was – produced individually on a hand-cranked press by Sekuworks in Cincinnati and sold to state agencies through distributors including Pacific Bancnote or Northern Bank Note. The Intaglio printing technique is mandated by California Health and Safety Code 103526.5, which dictates the security measures for birth, death and marriage certificates. The state also requires light-sensitive images, fluorescent numbering and matching bar codes, microprint lines, watermarks, fluorescent security threads and fibers and anything else the state registrar can think of to make it tough on counterfeiters to, well, counterfeit.

New suppliers? If the only California-approved Intaglio printer in America is out of the business, and no domestic replacement can be found, distributors will look outside of the country to find an engraver and then that engraver must be licensed by the state. Getting supposedly secure documents from hacker-happy countries like China or Russia certainly doesn’t wow anyone here.

Fortunately, the county’s Health Services Agency – which issues and maintains records and issues certificates for the first two years after birth or death – has plenty of stock on hand, said Sharon Hutchins, who oversees the agency’s vital records.

“We reordered before anyone knew (of the printer’s closing),” she said.

She said the agency has a four- to six-month supply based on normal demands. They will sell you one birth certificate, but up to eight death certificates because numerous businesses or agencies require original copies to remove the deceased from deeds, accounts, and retirement, pension and insurance claims. Health Services keeps birth and death records only back as far as 2014. For anything older, go to the Clerk-Recorder’s Office or to the California Department of Public Health. The state also will sell multiple copies.

The answer, Lundrigan said, lies with the state and the Legislature. She immediately explained the problem to Assemblywoman Kristin Olsen, R-Riverbank, leader of the Republican caucus.

“They need to go forward and put new security (standards) in,” Lundrigan said. “It’s a legislative concern. Our concern is finding enough print product to last us until that can be accomplished.”

Olsen said she was unaware of the issue until Lundrigan brought it to her attention last week. Olsen said she heard there was a bill in the works from the Senate side but a staff search came up empty, so she’ll pursue it.

“It’s suddenly become a priority in my office,” Olsen said. “I hope we can pass some legislation in our final session (Aug. 19 to Sept. 11) of the legislative year.”

They can pass emergency bills to give them time to research a more permanent method of securing the documents.

And they’d better. They’re facing a certified paperwork disaster.