e-Notary Law slowly moves forward without RIN, RON and paper-out procedure

Legislation by State Representative Shane Aguirre (R-17) that would authorize electronic notarization of documents received approval Tuesday (June 2, 2020) from the Senate Judiciary, Division A committee. Aguirre introduced House Bill 1156 prior to the COVID-19 pandemic at the request of the Land Title Association of Mississippi. Identical legislation introduced by State Senators Briggs Hopson and Tyler McCaughn is currently pending before the House Judiciary A Committee. Hopson and McCaughn also introduced Senate Bill 2394 prior to the pandemic.

While HB 1156 and SB 2394 both represent a much-needed move toward modernizing Mississippi’s notarial law, neither bill authorizes remote ink-signed notarization (“RIN”) and remote online notarization (“RON”). Instead, the legislation would only authorize traditional wet-ink notarization (“TWIN”) and in-person electronic notarization (“IPEN”). The person signing a document to be notarized would still need to physically appear in person before the notary.

Remote notarization would have allowed notaries to use audio-video communication to, in the case of remote ink-signed notarization, witness the execution of a document using wet ink and then notarize the document using a wet-ink notary stamp, and in the case of remote online notarization e-notarize documents that would otherwise need to be verified in person. A “remote” notary would retain his or her function and responsibilities as an impartial witness while using technology to provide another means by which the notary may perform official duties.

The Land Title Association of Mississippi worked closely with staff at the Mississippi Secretary of State’s office to draft an amendment to both HB 1156 and SB 2394 to add both RIN and RON, as well as a much-needed “paper-out procedure” for those 60+ counties in Mississippi that do not currently have the capability of accepting electronic documents. However, leadership in both the House and Senate declined to move the amendment forward at this time. LTAMS also assisted in drafting rules to implement both the e-Notary Law and the proposed amendment. Unfortunately, without the proposed amendment, the overall effectiveness of the e-Notary Law will be muted.  Without a paper-out procedure, documents that are electronically signed and notarized under the e-Notary Law would not be recordable in those 60+ Mississippi counties that do not currently have e-recording capability.

Governor Reeves issued Executive Order No. 1467 temporarily authorizing both “remote ink-signed notarization” and “remote online notarization” for the duration of this emergency. This temporary authorization will expire 14-days after the state of emergency ends. To learn more, read Executive Order No. 1467 and our letter request.

Similar versions of the legislation championed by then-Secretary of State Delbert Hosemann, House Bill 777 and Senate Bill 2722 of 2018-2019, died in committee in their respective chambers.

As of March 2020, some 23 states have laws that enable their notaries to conduct remote notarizations. Those states include: Arizona, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington and Wisconsin. Wisconsin was the latest to enact the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts effective March 5, 2020 and became the twenty-third state to authorize notaries to perform remote online notarizations.

On March 18, 2020, Senator Kevin Kramer, R-N.D., and Mark Warner, D-Va., introduced legislation that would allow immediate nationwide use of RON in response to the COVID-19 outbreak. The Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020 (“SECURE”) would authorize every notary in the United State to perform RONs, requires tamper-evident technology in electronic notarizations and provides fraud prevention through use of multifactor authentication. Under Senate rules, the bill would most likely be referred to the Senate Banking Committee, which must approve the bill before sending it to the Senate floor. As of March 23, 2020, House Representative Guy Reschenthaler, R-PA-14, also introduced a new bill in the House, H.R. 6364, to authorize and establish minimum standards for electronic and remote notarizations. Along with these efforts, national trade associations such as American Land Title Association (“ALTA”) and Mortgage Bankers Association (“MBA”) are pushing for a federal RON provision to be attached to COVID-19 stimulus bill(s). At this time, we are monitoring the future developments of the bills closely.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Friday, May 29, 2020, that Congress will decide whether to pass a “final” coronavirus relief package in the coming weeks. This will likely be the last opportunity for ALTA and the MBA to move the SECURE Act forward this year.