Comedian Jerry Seinfeld has a bit about the arcane tradition of notarizing documents and how the practicality of the notary and their metal squeeze stamper may belong to another era, even advocating anarchy in the face of the age-old process.
“You ever want to just grab it out of his hand and go, ‘There, I have the power now!’? You see? He’s just a man!’ ” Seinfeld jibes.
Congress moved last week to actually take the stamper away from notaries, at least symbolically, with House passage of the SECURE Notarization Act. The bill, which now moves to the Senate for final okay, updates and modernizes the notarization process in and outside of the United States. It will allow every notary in the U.S. to perform Remote Online Notarizations (RONs), as well as allow signers outside of the U.S. to securely notarize documents. Final passage will allow for the immediate nationwide use of RON, and allow those stationed outside of the U.S., such as members of the armed services, to securely notarize documents remotely.
"The pandemic has shown us how crucial online access is for so many areas of our life, including notarization," said Rep. Madeline Dean (D-PA), one of the bill’s co-sponsors. "People across our country, and those living outside of the U.S. for military service or other reasons, can have their documents notarized remotely. I look forward to our commonsense, bipartisan bill being brought to the Senate."
To some it may seem surprising that it has taken this long to bring the process of notarizing documents into the 21st century. It took the pandemic to move 46 states to temporarily allow remote notarization, a process that now may become permanent. The efficiency of everything from mortgage applications, wills, trusts, employment contracts, and passports, are sometimes slowed by the need to have them personally stamped and witnessed by a notary.
The Insured Retirement Institute was among the groups championing the change in notary procedures, saying it would implement digital solutions for annuity transactions.
“The House vote removes regulatory barriers that can impede transparent and safe digital transactions consumers want and expect,” said Wayne Chopus, IRI president and CEO. “We will continue to work with legislators and regulators to identify and address regulatory barriers that require physical signatures on documents when safe, secure technology allows for signature, notarization, and verification virtually and electronically.”
The American Land Title Association called the legislation “a game changer” for homebuyers and those with disabilities, as well as active-duty service members stationed overseas.
"Unfortunately, too many consumers and businesses across several states still do not have access to technology that allows them to execute critical documents remotely, said Diane Tomb, ALTA's chief executive officer. “We are optimistic that all consumers across the country will soon be granted permanent access to RON."
The bill unanimously passed the House Energy and Commerce Committee last week, with strong backing from the Credit Union National Association.
“Given the fact that the pandemic has affected every state and county in the country and that many of the notary requirements emanate from Federal law, CUNA strongly believes it would be in the interest of public policy to have a federal law permitting remote online notarization,” the organization wrote to lawmakers this week.
Doug Bailey is a journalist and freelance writer who lives outside of Boston. He can be reached at [email protected].