Remote notary service could become permanent

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Sep. 16—BOSTON — With a pandemic-related law allowing remote notarization set to expire by the end of the year, lawmakers are weighing plans to make the changes permanent.

A proposal heard filed by Rep. Carmine Gentile, D-Sudbury, would allow public notaries in Massachusetts to continue remotely certifying wills, trusts, home sales and other major transactions.

Gentile told the Legislature's Judiciary Committee on Wednesday that the emergency law allowing remote notarization proved its "value and utility."

He said the changes should be made permanent, putting Massachusetts in line with a majority of states that have authorized e-notary services.

"Many people who wanted to, for example, create a will for themselves during these perilous times were able to do so," Gentile said.

A similar proposal also heard by the committee on Wednesday would create a state commission to hash out details of the new e-notarization law.

Under Massachusetts law notarizations must take place in person, using wet ink. But those services were hampered by government shutdowns and social distancing policies aimed at preventing spread of the coronavirus.

A law signed last year by Gov. Charlie Baker allowed notarizations to be conducted through videoconference during the state's emergency declaration. Baker's emergency rules expired in June, but lawmakers extended the temporary rules for remote notarizations through Dec. 15.

Debbie Sousa, executive director of the Massachusetts Mortgage Bankers Association, said consumers should have the option to get documents notarized remotely.

"One of the important things that we have learned from the pandemic is that consumers have the right to have important documents signed without that in-person contact," she told the committee.

Baking industry officials said they hope to make changes to the proposals to clarify lingering legal issues and ensure robust consumer protections. They said the final regulations also allow consumers to request in-person notarization.

"We're not looking to take that away," Sousa said. "Consumers would still have the option of signing documents in the physical presence of the notary."

The state has about 100,000 public notaries, and roughly 42,000 lawyers or paralegals are certified to notarize transactions.

At least 38 states allow some form of e-notary services or use a remote online notarization system, according to the National Notary Association.

Governors in several states, including New Hampshire and New York, issued executive orders during the pandemic temporarily allowing remote notary services.

In Congress, lawmakers are also considering a proposal that would allow nationwide use of remote online notarization.

Christian M. Wade covers the Massachusetts Statehouse for North of Boston Media Group's newspapers and websites. Email him at cwade@northofboston.com.

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