Senators advance bill to modernize notary laws | News | virginislandsdailynews.com – Virgin Islands Daily News

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Updated: May 22, 2022 @ 5:57 am

ST. THOMAS — The Senate Government Operations and Consumer Affairs Committee advanced legislation at a hearing Thursday that aims to modernize existing notary laws and create lasting access to electronic notarizations by enacting the V.I. Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts.
“The history of notaries in the Virgin Islands is a long and venerated one,” Dolace McLean, legal counsel with the Office of the Lieutenant Governor, said in supporting testimony. “The Office of the Lieutenant Governor has recorded notary commissions dating back to 1967. The current version of the notary statute codified has been in effect since 1988 and needs to be updated.”
AARP State Director Troy de Chabert Schuster also testified in support, noting that 38 states have adopted the Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts and that the U.S. Virgin Islands would be the first territory to do so.
Aside from the benefits of reducing fraud and increased efficiency, de Chabert Schuster said the legislation also holds value with the aging population, those with disabilities and their caregivers.
“So many of them have mobility challenges. So, for them to leave their home to go physically to a notary public to notarize a document is very challenging,” de Chabert Schuster said.
Using a personal anecdote, de Chabert Schuster told the committee, “My own mother is a bit limited in her mobility these days and just recently she had to sign and notarize an important document. We went through a lot of work trying to find a notary public who would come to her home and make all those arrangements. Whereas if we could have just done it electronically, it would have been so easy.”
Though the law hasn’t been updated, McLean testified that the Notary Division has been allowing remote online notarization for some time, recognizing it “as a better means of protecting consumers, and notaries, as the pandemic continues.”
McLean, who noted that the Notary Division is tasked with licensing and regulating people who administer oaths and affirmations, said it can sometimes lend itself to fraud. The office, she said, has prosecuted seven notary misconduct cases in the last two years.
McLean added, however, that “given the communication technology and software that provide for identity proofing and audio-visual recording of the notarial act, remote online notarization creates additional safeguards for the integrity of the notarial process and deters fraud and abuse.”
According to McLean, for a notary public to offer electronic notarization, the business owner would have to purchase the software but many notary publics in the territory do not understand what it means.
“It’s a tool,” she said, adding that since the pandemic, when executive orders were given that allowed for electronic filing, the division has encountered it share of problems.
Notary publics, she said, were using video conferencing apps, having individuals show identification, sign, and send the document to the notary who would then add their signature and seal.
“The integrity wasn’t there and the reliability of the documents were not there,” McLean said.
In response, she said, the division is offering a mandatory biannual two-hour training sessions for notaries, conducting ongoing notary journal inspections, hosting webinars and workshops to cover most frequent notary issues, as well as providing training for remote online notarization.
The Office of the Lieutenant Governor also is working with the Property and Procurement Department to allow its Notary Division to computerize some functions such as application renewals, invoicing for annual and renewal fees and apostille applications.
Honoring Ragster
Senators on Thursday also advanced legislation sponsored by a non-committee member, Senate President Donna Free-Gregory, that seeks to honor a former University of the Virgin Islands president, LaVerne Ragster, by naming its Administration and Conference Center in her honor.
Both the notary bill and resolution were forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further review.
Committee members Sens. Novelle Francis Jr., Carla Joseph, Marvin Blyden, Alma Francis Heyliger, Javan James Sr., Franklin Johnson and Milton Potter were present for Thursday’s hearing.
— Contact Bethaney Lee at 340-714-9104 or email blee@dailynews.vi.

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