BILL ANALYSIS                                                                                                                                                                                                    






                             SENATE JUDICIARY COMMITTEE
                             Senator Noreen Evans, Chair
                              2013-2014 Regular Session


          AB 555 (Salas)
          As Amended April 30, 2013
          Hearing Date:  June 11, 2013
          Fiscal:  No
          Urgency:  No
          TH


                                        SUBJECT
                                           
                               Social Security Numbers

                                      DESCRIPTION  

          Under existing law, governmental agencies and their employees  
          are prohibited from publicly posting or displaying an  
          individual's social security number or acting in a manner that  
          might compromise its confidentiality.  This bill would permit a  
          state adult correctional facility, or an adult city or county  
          jail, to release an inmate's social security number for the  
          purpose of determining the inmate's status as a military veteran  
          and his or her eligibility for veterans' benefits.  The release  
          of an inmate's social security number under this bill would only  
          occur with the inmate's consent, and only upon request by a  
          county Veterans Service Officer or by the U.S. Department of  
          Veterans Affairs.

                                      BACKGROUND  

          According to the U.S. Substance Abuse & Mental Health Services  
          Administration, "on any given day, veterans account for nine of  
          every hundred individuals in U.S. jails and prisons."  (Veterans  
          in Contact with the Justice System  
           [as of June 5, 2013].)  In 2004, the  
          year for which most recent data is available, an estimated  
          140,000 veterans were being held in prison in the U.S., and  
          127,500 of these veterans were incarcerated in state prisons.   
          (Bureau of Justice Statistics, Veterans in State and Federal  
          Prison, 2004  [as  
          of June 5, 2013].)  Among state prisoners, approximately ten  
                                                                (more)



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          percent reported prior service in the Armed Forces, and of those  
          prisoners, six out of ten had received an honorable discharge  
          from the service.  (Id.)

          "Taken as a whole, veterans are not overrepresented in the  
          justice system as compared to their proportion in the United  
          States general adult population," but they tend to face higher  
          barriers than non-veteran ex-offenders when re-entering society.  
           (Veterans in Contact with the Justice System.)  Of those housed  
          in jails, one out of five was experiencing long-term  
          homelessness prior to incarceration, and three out of four were  
          unemployed.  (Id.)  Among state prisoners, veterans were more  
          likely than non-veterans to have recently received mental health  
          services, including an overnight stay in a hospital, use of a  
          prescribed medication, or treatment by a mental health  
          professional.  (Veterans in State and Federal Prison, 2004.)

          Both the State and Federal governments offer a range of social  
          welfare programs for veterans, including those who are or have  
          been incarcerated.  However, it appears that a number of  
          incarcerated veterans, particularly those in their twenties or  
          thirties, are not connected with existing veteran's benefits  
          programs, including healthcare services through the U.S.  
          Department of Veterans Affairs.  (See Veterans in Contact with  
          the Justice System.)  Many incarcerated veterans may simply be  
          unaware of the benefits available to them on account of their  
          military service, or the conditions of their incarceration may  
          make it too burdensome for these veterans to apply for and  
          receive benefits.

          Since 1992, California's counties have had the authority to  
          appoint a county veterans service officer to investigate all  
          claims, applications, or requests for veterans benefits,  
          including those made by incarcerated veterans.  More recently,  
          in 2012 the Legislature directed the California Department of  
          Corrections and Rehabilitation (CDCR) to develop policies  
          concerning the release of veterans who are inmates to assist  
          them in pursuing claims for or establish entitlement to  
          veteran's benefits.  County veterans service officers and state  
          corrections personnel have reported difficulty in investigating  
          and establishing veteran's benefits claims due to restrictions  
          in communicating an inmate's social security number to relevant  
          benefit administrators, such as the U.S. Department of Veterans  
          Affairs.  Existing provisions in the Civil Code explicitly allow  
          for the collection, use, or release of a social security number  
          "for internal verification or administrative purposes," (Civ.  
                                                                      



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          Code Sec. 1798.85(b)), but do not provide a similar explicit  
          exemption for "external verification," such as sharing a social  
          security number between agencies to ascertain benefits  
          eligibility.  This bill would explicitly permit a state adult  
          correctional facility, or an adult city or county jail, to  
          release an inmate's social security number for the purpose of  
          determining the inmate's status as a military veteran and his or  
          her eligibility for veteran's benefits, only when the inmate  
          consents to such a release, and only upon request by a county  
          veterans service officer or the U.S. Department of Veterans  
          Affairs.

                                CHANGES TO EXISTING LAW
           
           Existing law  prohibits a person or entity from publicly posting  
          or publicly displaying in any manner an individual's social  
          security number, except as provided by law.  "Publicly post" or  
          "publicly display" means to intentionally communicate or  
          otherwise make available to the general public.  (Civ. Code Sec.  
          1798.85(a)(1).)

           Existing law  prohibits a person or entity from performing  
          certain acts that may compromise the confidentiality of an  
          individual's social security number, including:
                 printing an individual's social security number on any  
               card required for the individual to access products or  
               services provided by the person or entity;
                 requiring an individual to transmit his or her social  
               security number over the Internet, unless the connection is  
               secure or the social security number is encrypted;
                 requiring an individual to use his or her social  
               security number to access an Internet Web site, unless a  
               password or unique personal identification number or other  
               authentication device is also required to access the  
               Internet Web site; and
                 printing an individual's social security number on any  
               materials that are mailed to the individual, unless state  
               or federal law requires the social security number to be on  
               the document to be mailed.  (Civ. Code Secs.  
               1798.85(a)(2)-(5).)

           Existing law  does not prevent the collection, use, or release of  
          a social security number as required by state or federal law or  
          the use of a social security number for internal verification or  
          administrative purposes, and does not apply to documents that  
          are recorded or required to be open to the public as specified.   
                                                                      



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          (Civ. Code Sec. 1798.85(c).)

           Existing law  directs the Department of Corrections and  
          Rehabilitation to develop guidance policies relative to the  
          release of veterans who are inmates, with the intent to assist  
          veterans who are inmates in pursuing claims for federal  
          veteran's benefits, or in establishing rights to any other  
          privilege, preference, care, or compensation provided under  
          federal or state law because of honorable service in the  
          military.  (Mil. & Vet. Code Sec. 1840.)

           Existing federal law  permits incarcerated veterans and dependent  
          family members to receive federal veteran's benefits under  
          specified conditions.  (38 U.S. Code Sec. 5313.)

           Existing law  permits the board of supervisors of each county to  
          appoint a county veterans service officer, who shall investigate  
          all claims, applications, or requests for aid made pursuant to  
          state law, and to perform any other veteran related services as  
          requested by the county board of supervisors.  (Mil. & Vet. Code  
          Sec. 970.)

           This bill  would permit a state adult correctional facility, or  
          an adult city or county jail, to release an inmate's social  
          security number, with the inmate's consent and upon request by  
          the county veterans service officer or the United States  
          Department of Veterans Affairs, for the purpose of determining  
          the inmate's status as a military veteran and his or her  
          eligibility for federal, state, or local veterans' benefits or  
          services.








                                        COMMENT
           
          1.  Stated need for the bill  
          
          The author writes:
          
               Existing law generally prohibits a person or entity from  
               publicly posting, displaying, mailing, or otherwise  
                                                                      



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               intentionally communicating an individual's [social  
               security number (SSN)] to the general public.  Other state  
               laws require redacting the SSN, or some portion thereof,  
               from public records.  Existing law also creates a number of  
               reasonable exemptions to these general prohibitions,  
               including when the SSN is needed for certain administrative  
               purposes or when the SSN is required to be on a mailed form  
               as a matter of state or federal law.  Of particular  
               relevance to this bill, existing law also permits the use  
               of the SSN "for internal verification or administrative  
               purposes" [citation omitted].  At first blush a broad  
               reading of this language might appear to authorize the  
               release of the SSN for the purpose of verifying an inmate's  
               status as a military veteran; however, this existing  
               language only authorizes the use of the SSN for purposes of  
               "internal" verification and administration.  Thus it does  
               not appear under existing law that a prison or jail could  
               release or disclose a SSN, externally, to a county  
               veterans' service officer or the U.S. Department of  
               Veterans Affairs.

               This bill seeks to expressly authorize a Sherriff to  
               disclose an inmate's social security [number] to a County  
               Veteran Service Officer upon request, and with the inmate's  
               consent.

          2.  Need to connect veterans with benefits  

          As noted above, available data indicates that a large number of  
          incarcerated veterans are not receiving veterans benefits to  
          which they are entitled.  Many of the social welfare benefit  
          programs available to veterans, including medical services from  
          the Department of Veterans Affairs, would materially aid  
          incarcerated veterans overcome the high barriers that often  
          hinder their successful re-entry into society.  Establishing  
          benefits eligibility prior to release would enable incarcerated  
          veterans to more easily transition back into society at the end  
          of their incarceration, and could help address or alleviate  
          individual problems that might otherwise lead to recidivism.   
          Further, while some federal veteran's benefits may be lost  
          during a period of incarceration, many benefits are still  
          available to the dependents of a veteran during a period of  
          incarceration, including those available to eligible spouses and  
          minor children.  (See 38 U.S. Code Sec. 5313.)  This bill would  
          make it easier for state and county correctional officers to  
          establish benefits entitlement for incarcerated individuals  
                                                                      



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          (and, by extension, dependent family members) by allowing them  
          to share an inmate's social security number with a benefits  
          administrator without fear of violating the Civil Code.


          3.   Protection of social security numbers  

          The growing crime of identity theft has increased consumer  
          concern about the privacy of personal and financial information  
          and the ease of unauthorized access to social security numbers.   
          Identity theft is often accomplished by stealing social security  
          numbers, which then are used to open bank accounts, gain credit,  
          and run up debts in the victim's name.  In the past few years,  
          the Legislature has passed several measures that seek to reduce  
          the incidence of identity theft by ending the practice of using  
          social security numbers as identification or account numbers.   
          In 2001, the Legislature passed SB 168 (Bowen, Chapter 720,  
          Statutes of 2001), which prohibited persons or entities from  
          using social security numbers in a variety of ways, including  
          publicly posting or displaying social security numbers on such  
          things as cards used to access products or services, or  
          intentionally communicating social security numbers to the  
          general public.  SB 168 enacted the restrictions on collecting,  
          using, or releasing social security numbers for reasons other  
          than "internal verification or administrative purposes" that  
          county veterans service officers have identified as impediments  
          to establishing eligibility for benefits for incarcerated  
          veterans.

          The express aim of SB 168 is to ensure the confidentiality of an  
          individual's social security number by, among other things,  
          protecting it from public disclosure.  This bill does not alter  
          that fundamental framework.  To the contrary, it would authorize  
          the controlled release of a social security number only under  
          certain, limited conditions, and only to authorized governmental  
          employees.  Specifically, this bill would permit the release of  
          an inmate's social security number only upon request by a county  
          veterans service officer or the U.S. Department of Veterans  
          Affairs, only with the consent of the inmate, and only for the  
          limited purpose of determining the inmate's status as a military  
          veteran or eligibility for veteran's benefits and services.  The  
          bill would not permit public disclosure of an inmate's social  
          security number, and the limitations contained within the bill  
          serve to ensure that confidentiality of the social security  
          number is not compromised.

                                                                      



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           Support  :  American Legion - Department of California; AMVETS -  
          Department of California; California State Commanders Veterans  
          Council; Kings County Veterans Services; Office of the Sheriff  
          of Kings County; VFW - Department of California; Vietnam  
          Veterans of America - California State Council

           Opposition  :  None Known

                                        HISTORY
           
           Source  :  California Association of County Veterans Service  
          Officers

           Related Pending Legislation  :  SB 354 (Roth) would require the  
          Department of Veterans Affairs to develop outcome and related  
          indicators for veterans, for the purpose of assessing the status  
          of veterans in California, for monitoring the quality of  
          programs intended to serve those veterans, and to guide  
          decisionmaking on how to improve those services.  This bill is  
          pending assignment in the Assembly Rules Committee.

           Prior Legislation  :

          AB 2490 (Butler, Chapter 407, Statutes of 2012) requires the  
          Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation to develop guidance  
          policies to assist veterans who are inmates in pursuing claims  
          for federal veteran's benefits, or in establishing rights to any  
          other privilege, preference, care, or compensation provided  
          under federal or state law because of honorable service in the  
          military.

          AB 2671 (Salas, 2008) would have required the Department of  
          Corrections and Rehabilitation to create a prerelease program  
          for incarcerated honorably discharged veterans who are eligible  
          for federal and state benefits.  This bill was vetoed by the  
          Governor.

          SB 168 (Bowen, Chapter 720, Statutes of 2001) See Comment 3.

           Prior Vote  :

          Assembly Rules Committee (Ayes 9, Noes 0)
          Assembly Judiciary Committee (Ayes 10, Noes 0)
          Assembly Floor (Ayes 75, Noes 0)

                                                                      



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