On Thursday, the committee on Government Operations and Consumer Protection convened and senators voted unanimously in favor on Bill No. 34-0155, amending the law relating to notaries, notarial officers, and notarial acts. Testifiers lauded the remote online notarization that the bill provides.
Troy de Chabert Schuster, state director of AARP in the Virgin Islands, said AARP is highly in favor of the bill because “When it comes to our older population, we see that so many of them have some mobility challenges. So, for them to leave their home to go physically to a notary public to notarize a document is very challenging, and especially for the caregivers.”
The bill provides a new maximum fee of $25 for the remote notarizations. Schuster also said that the proposed fee of $25 is not “prohibitive” as it assists to cover the cost of the remote system software, the cost of inflation, and the cost of notary bonds.
Currently there are 605 notaries in the territory. During the hearing, it was discussed that the Office of the Lieutenant Governor plans to increase notary fees in the territory on April 1, 2022. Each notarial act will be $15 and the maximum fee for travel will be $25. Renewal fees, commissions, and apostles will also receive price increases.
Sen. Milton Potter expressed concerned about how community members would make use of the remote system being that there will be a cost difference for in-person and remote services. Dolace McLean, legal counsel for the lieutenant governor, responded and said that, “The market will let us know for the private notaries, but for the attorneys, they’ve indicated to us that the investment may be worth it to them.”
Inquiries were made during the hearing about disciplinary actions for notaries who violate the law. McLean referenced disciplinary action that was taken against notaries in recent months.
“We have been vigorously regulating notaries … the past two years we’ve had to discipline seven notary publics for various issues related to improper notarization,” said McLean. “The biggest thing we see is the failure to keep their journal properly.”
McLean cited instances where notaries were notarizing documents via Zoom calls and WhatsApp, “showing an ID, signing a piece of paper, and mailing or emailing it to the notary,” and in doing so challenging the integrity of the signed documents.
In addition, McLean said that the Notary Division is working on implementing two-hour training sessions that notaries will have to participate in bi-annually. The training sessions will be similar to continuing education courses.
The bill will be forwarded to the Rules and Judiciary Committee for further consideration.
The committee also voted in favor of Bill No. 34-0148, an act honoring and commending LaVerne E. Ragster for her contributions and research efforts to the Virgin Islands and naming the University of the Virgin Islands Administration and Conference Center on the island of St. Thomas in her honor.
Senators Carla Joseph, Marvin Blyden, Novelle Francis Jr., Franklin Johnson, Javan James Sr., Milton Potter, and Alma Francis-Heyliger, were present.