February 4, 2023

Name change bill clears House Judiciary Committee

A bill that will eliminate the requirement to give public notice when changing a name passed the House Judiciary Committee by 10 to 0 on Friday.

Sponsored by House Rep. Christine Chandler, a Democrat from Albuquerque, HB 31 will, if enacted, eliminate from statute the requirement to place a public notice for 14 days in the local newspaper when a person seeks to change their name. The Legislature put the requirement into law decades ago and it was intended to prevent individuals from evading creditors. The law is now antiquated and it puts transgender individuals and survivors of domestic violence, assault and stalking in danger, advocates of the bill have said.

Chandler said the bill removes the requirement that both parents be notified of a name change of a minor. Chandler said an amendment already made to the bill clarifies some language such as that a parent could also be defined as a legal guardian.

Chandler said she hoped the policy reason for the bill was clear.

“We’re trying to protect individuals subject to harassment or violence or negative activity who, as a consequence, are interested in changing their name. It could be members of the LGBTQ community. Or (victims) of domestic violence or sexual violence,” she said.

She added that the process to change one’s name in current statute is a “cumbersome” process and that potentially costly fees are involved in placing legal ads in local newspapers to announce the name change.

The bill also creates a provision for sealing the records of a person who is changing their name. Sen. Greg Nibert, R-Roswell, said that “maybe makes sense to seal the records for a child.”

“This provides sealing records forever,” Nibert said.

He went on to say that he seeks individuals for payments from oil companies and if a person’s record is sealed, the oil company doesn’t pursue it.

“I’m suggesting you might want to put some limitations on it; sealed with a minor and unsealed when the person turns 18 years of age. So people know John Doe is now John Smith. It’s information the business community needs. If they can’t see the records, they don’t exist. There may be some poor consequences as a result of this provision,” Nibert said.

Chandler said that after the age of 18, the court can open the records by court order.

Nibert said “nobody is ever going to open those things.”

“I understand what you’re doing is trying to protect a person but once they’re adults, I don’t see why the protection is necessary. I see a consequence for that information not being available,” Nibert said.

Chandler said that, in some cases, a person “is at risk forever.”

The bill heads to the House chamber next.