Long-awaited changes in notary public regulations, allowing the use of electronic signatures rather than in-person signatures, were approved by the Missouri General Assembly in mid-May 2020, and are expected to go into effect upon bill signing by Governor Mike Parson (R). Senate Committee Substitute for House Committee Substitute for House Bill 1655 modifies provisions relating to the certification of documents, including processes for recorders of deeds and procedures for notaries public. The House bill sponsor was Rep. Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove), and sponsor of Senate legislation was Sen. Sandy Crawford (R-Buffalo).

The legislation comes after Governor Parson suspended in-person signing and notarization of documents.

On April 6, Governor Parson issued Executive Order 20-08, originally valid until May 15 and later extended until June 15, which suspended a state requirement that a notary public must conduct the notarization of official documents while the signor personally appears in front of him or her. The order allowed for the use of audio-video technology to complete the personal appearance requirement, protecting the health and safety of notaries public across Missouri. Any document notarized via a live video conference in compliance with the Governor’s order shall have the same force, effect, and validity as any other notarized document. The person whose signature is to be notarized must show a valid photo ID during the video conference. Both the notary public and the person seeking document notarization must be physically situated in the state of Missouri. The notary public shall keep record of the exact time and software used to conduct the notarial act.

Complete information about the new statutes contained in HB 1655 can be found at: https://s1.sos.mo.gov/business/notary

In its main provisions the “E-Notary Bill” changes state laws relating to land conveyances and recorders of deeds. If a document is required by law to be an original, on paper, or in writing for the purpose of recording, the document may be in electronic form. Also, a requirement of notarization for a document or signature is satisfied if the electronic signature of the authorized person is attached to or logically associated with the document or signature.

The statute also allows satisfaction of the document requirements if a paper copy of an electronic document bearing an electronic signature along with all other required information is certified by a notary. The notary shall confirm that the electronic document contains an electronic signature that is capable of independent verification, shall personally print or supervise the printing of the document, and shall not make any changes to the document. For the purposes of proving or acknowledging a written instrument affecting real property by an officer, a person may appear before the officer by physical presence or by means of communication technology.

In order to be commissioned as a notary public, a person must be at least 18 years old, reside or have a regular place of work or business in Missouri, be a legal resident of the U.S., read and write English, pass an examination, and submit an application with the Secretary of State. The Secretary is given discretion to deny any application for reasons specified in the statute. Once the Secretary has granted an application for a notary commission, the commission shall be presented to the appropriate county clerk and the applicant shall take an oath of office and present a $10,000 bond within 60 days of the commission being issued. Notary commissions last for four years, or until the commission is revoked by the Secretary or resigned by the person holding the commission. A notary commission issued to a person prior to the effective date of the legislation shall not be invalidated. However, once such commission expires, the new statute applies to an application for any new commissions.

The legislation also authorizes a notary, judge, clerk, or deputy clerk of any Missouri court, or other person authorized by Missouri law to perform a specific notarial act to perform specified notary services.

The maximum fees that can be charged for performing a notarial act range from $1 to $5, depending on the type of notarial act requested. The legislation permits a notary to charge a travel fee. However, a notary may not discriminate in the charging of fees based on the characteristics of the principal if such attributes would be a basis for employment discrimination under Missouri law. In addition to the other fees allowed, a remote online notary may charge a remote online notary transaction fee. The statute also has specific requirements for any notarized document sent to another state or nation.

Notaries are required to keep a chronological journal of notarial acts for a period of no less than 10 years after the last notarial act. The legislation stipulates the information that is required to be recorded in the journal. The journal may be examined and copied without restriction by a law enforcement officer in the course of an official investigation, subpoenaed by court order, pursuant to subpoena power as authorized by law, or surrendered at the direction of the Secretary. Nothing in this provision shall prevent a notary public from seeking appropriate judicial protective orders.

The legislation requires notaries to use an official seal when notarizing a paper document, and it regulates what information must be present on and adjacent to the seal. Vendors and manufacturers must register with the Secretary of State prior to selling or manufacturing notary seals. Also, prior to providing a notary seal to a purchaser claiming to be a notary, the vendor or manufacturer shall require such person to present a notary commission.

The Secretary shall develop and maintain standards for remote online notarization. In developing standards, the Secretary shall consider the standards established by the National Association of Secretaries of State and national standard setting bodies. The Secretary shall also approve remote online notarization software if the software meets certain requirements defined in the statute. In addition to courses required for commissioning as a notary, any remote online notary shall complete a course consisting of notarial laws, procedures, and ethics relating to remote online notarization.

The legislation also sets penalties for a notary’s negligence, intentional violation of law, or official misconduct in relation to a notarization. The Secretary is authorized under certain circumstances to revoke or suspend notary commissions.

Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft (R) has updated his website to a current list of approved software for e-notary and instructions on how to register with the state. This information can be found at https://www.sos.mo.gov/ElectronicNotary