Notary Series Part 4: Remote Online Notary (RON) Changing the Way We Notarize in California

By Jessica Melton

There is a new kind of notary (hopefully) coming to California!  On January 27, 2022, the California Assembly Judiciary Committee voted to pass a new bill to allow Remote Online Notaries (RONs) in California.  The bill which passed (56 to 4) is called AB 1093.  This bill would allow existing and new notary publics to conduct notaries via their computers.

According to the bill (if it passes the California Senate as written), some of the merits include:

  • Requiring an entity to register with the Secretary of State as an online notarization platform before providing an online notarization system, as defined, to an online notary public;
  • Requiring a representative of an online notarization platform to certify compliance with applicable laws under penalty of perjury. The bill also creates a civil cause of action against an online notarization platform for a violation of those laws;
  • Requiring the Secretary of State to develop an application for registration and establish rules to implement the bill by July 1, 2023;
  • Authorizing the Secretary of State to charge an applicant a fee for an application for registration in an amount necessary to administer the act;
  • Authorizing an online notary public to perform notarial acts and online notarizations by means of audio-video communication;
  • Establishing various requirements applicable to an online notary public, including requiring an online notary public to keep one or more secure electronic journals to record online notarial acts, requiring an electronic notarial certificate to be a specified form that is required to be signed under penalty of perjury, and requiring an online notary public to destroy certain information upon termination of a commission, as specified;
  • Establishing various requirements applicable to an online notarization platform, including prohibiting an online notarization platform from accessing, using, sharing, selling, disclosing, producing, providing, releasing, transferring, disseminating, or otherwise communicating the contents of an online notarial act, with specified exceptions. The bill would also make other conforming changes;
  • Imposing requirements for ensuring the security of an electronic signature or electronic seal and would make a violation of those provisions subject to civil penalties;
  • Making a violation of those provisions’ grounds for refusal or revocation of a commission as an online notary public;
  • Making it a misdemeanor for any person who, without authorization, knowingly obtains, conceals, damages, or destroys the certificate, disk, coding, card, program, software, or hardware enabling an online notary public to affix an official electronic signature or seal;
  • Making it a misdemeanor for an online notary public to willfully fail or refuse to deliver all notarial records and papers to the Secretary of State within 30 days of when the online notary public resigns, is disqualified, is removed from office, or allows the online notary public’s registration to expire;
  • By creating new crimes, and by expanding the scope of the existing crime of perjury, this bill would impose a state-mandated local program. This bill would exempt from the California Public Records Act records of online notarizations maintained by the Secretary of State. Existing constitutional provisions require that a statute that limits the right of access to the meetings of public bodies or the writings of public officials and agencies be adopted with findings demonstrating the interest protected by the limitation and the need for protecting that interest; and
  • This bill would make legislative findings to that effect. The California Constitution requires the state to reimburse local agencies and school districts for certain costs mandated by the state.

 AB 1093 has some definite perks and a few disadvantages.  Let’s discuss this further.

The main (and by far most important) advantage, is that you would not be required to meet in person to undergo the notarial act.  Instead, a notary could do the act either by DocuSign or another similar RON software.  Second, the California notary public would have their jurisdiction modified from California alone to the entire fifty states!  Third, since the notary would have the backing of an online platform, then both the public and the notary public would have stronger data privacy protections than if the notarial act were to happen in its current form.  These protections would put more liability on the online platform rather than the notary public if wrongdoing were to occur by the notary public.  That said, the need for additional liability insurance for the notary public may not be needed, therefore incurring less expense for the notary public.  (See above for the liability parameters still imposed on the notary public).

This all sounds good so far, right?  Now onto the disadvantages.

The first disadvantage of this bill is that the notary public would need to take an additional class(es) to become a Remote Online Notary with the possibility of another certification exam.  However, notary organizations are lobbying for this information to be taught in the existing classes that are being offered and included as part of the state’s initial and re-examination testing.

The second disappointing part about RON is that the online platform can cost upwards of $450 to $500 per year.  Although California has not discussed a fee increase for online notarizations, the going rate for other states that permit these acts is $25 per signature per document.  In California, an in-person notary fee is $15 per signature per document, as regulated.

The third disadvantage of this program (but possibly the most obvious) is that both the notary public and the public must have a way to access these online platforms.  That means that if either you or the signer does not have a computer it is a no-go for this type of act.  The bill also does not discuss the possibility of incompatibility of either Macs or PCs with these platforms.

For now, though it is a wait-and-see process.  I know for many notary publics, myself included, this is a humongous opportunity.  If this bill were to fully pass in California, it would be one giant step toward notary inclusiveness for our state and the country as a whole.

For more information on AB 1093 click here


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