Legislature(2003 - 2004)
02/19/2004 03:40 PM Senate STA
* first hearing in first committee of referral
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
= bill was previously heard/scheduled
SB 302-OATHS; NOTARIES PUBLIC; STATE SEAL CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced SB 302 to be up for consideration. He invited Annette Kreitzer to come forward. ANNETTE KREITZER, chief of staff to Lt. Governor Leman, said Scott Clark was joining her. The reason for the bill, she explained, is the notary statutes have seen little updating since about 1961. She noted member's had a sectional analysis, a page of frequently asked questions, and a page comparing the current and proposed notary statute policy issues. Although she was happy to answer any questions, she said she would just highlight the sectional analysis. She noted that she and others in the office were surprised to learn that the lt. governor and the presiding officers of both bodies must be notaries to be able to administer the oath of office so that change is addressed in section 1. Section 5 increases the fee for a notary certificate from $2.00 to $5.00. Section 6 relates to the two categories of notaries. The notary public without limitation has a four year term and may charge fees for service. The limited governmental notary may conduct only official government business, the term is the same as the length of government employment, and they may not charge a fee. A notary public may hold both types of commission concurrently. Section 7 changes qualifications. The age was lowered from 19 to 18; the notary must be an Alaska resident and reside in the U.S.; and he or she may not be a convicted felon or have had a commission revoked. MS. KREITZER reported that the remaining sections relate to changing antiquated language. Section 13 is the repealer section and for the most part the repeals are rewritten then reincorporated elsewhere in the bill. CHAIR GARY STEVENS noted that is on page 14 of the bill. Section 14 relates to applicability and sets forth that commissions continue in effect until the term of office expires or if the commissioned is a felon; bonds, seals and liabilities in effect continue through the term of office; all notaries must follow the notary procedures encompassed in the legislation; and when commissions expire, application for new commissions will be under AS 44.50.031. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked for verification that a convicted felon would lose his or her commission. MS. KREITZER said that's correct. SENATOR COWDERY asked if notaries could charge fees because he notices that in the post office they may not charge fees. MS. KREITZER replied limited governmental notaries doing government business may not charge fees while private notaries may charge fees, but the latter must develop and adhere to a fee schedule. Referring to the postmaster, she pointed to a proposed amendment in the packets and explained that they recently discovered that Alaska law has been inconsistent with the federal law. SENATOR COWDERY asked if there is any regulation on how much could be charged. SCOTT CLARK, notary commission administrator, advised that notaries are free to develop their own fee schedule. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked Ms. Kreitzer to stay for potential questions then asked Mr. Clark if he would care to comment on the bill. MR. CLARK wasn't close enough to the microphone to pick up his response. SENATOR STEDMAN contended the question about the fee structure had merit. He noted that many businesses offer the service to their customers and the notaries he has worked with over the years have been proud to be a notary and take their job seriously. He asked if there is data on how many convicted felons are notaries. MR. CLARK replied there is no current restriction so they don't track that information. Nonetheless, he wouldn't expect the number to be very high. SENATOR STEDMAN noted that a great deal of responsibility comes with a notary commission and asked for an explanation for why the age was reduced. MR. CLARK admitted he wasn't working in his current capacity when the original notary bill passed, but he surmised it had something to do with the drinking age. He continued to say that all states but Alaska and Nebraska have established 18 as the minimum age for a notary. He expressed full agreement that a notary work is an important service that should be taken seriously. On the other hand, many entry-level positions in banks tend to go to younger people. Yesterday he received a call from a bank that was trying to hire an 18 year old. Part of the job description was to perform notary services and they were uncertain about the age limit. That person might not have qualified for the job because they weren't eligible to become a notary for another six months. SENATOR STEDMAN then asked for an explanation of current and proposed authority regarding revocations and extensions. MS. KREITZER replied the current process for revocation is through the Administrative Procedure Act (APA). If there is a complaint against a notary, the governor must find a hearing officer to process the complaint. The hearing officer can continue or revoke a notary commission, but the lt. governor lacks that authority. In the course of their review, they evaluated the process in Washington, Oregon and Texas and took an amalgam. As proposed, the lt. governor would have the authority to evaluate complaints for merit and then take action ranging from conducting a disciplinary hearing up to revoking a commission. SENATOR STEDMAN asked how many commissions have been revoked. MR. CLARK answered he was not aware of any. MS. KREITZER gave the following background. One of the first things she did as chief of staff was to look at the jobs in the lt. governor's office to determine whether or not there was a better way to do things. With regard to notaries, they found that the test they give is not mandatory. Although they want to continue that, they would like to move to an educational, web based, model to better serve the 12,000 notaries in the state. Even though there haven't been a large number of complaints, they have determined that the disciplinary section is important. Since Lt. Governor Leman has been in office, she knows of three instances in which notaries pushed the line of propriety. SENATOR STEDMAN commented that most people are honest, but occasionally an unscrupulous person will modify the signature on a notarized document. He knew that notaries usually keep a log for their own protection and he was curious about the requirements for keeping a log. MS. KREITZER replied that is a policy point they discussed, but because they don't have the staff to ensure that notaries keep logs, they just make the strong recommendation that one is kept. MR. CLARK confirmed that the office has always strongly recommended that a log is kept and they intend to continue that recommendation. It's important to the public to be able to follow up on a notarized signature and because a notary is liable for every action he or she takes as a notary, it's important for their protection as well. An accurate detailed log is the only proof a notary has to show that they have complied with the law. SENATOR GRETCHEN GUESS referred to page 3, line 27 and asked what qualifications are associated with limited notaries, other than being a state, municipal or federal employees. She observed it wasn't clear whether or not the qualifications in section 7 covered both public and limited notaries. MS. KREITZER replied both commissions have the same qualifications. SENATOR GUESS asked if the drafter said that is clear, because it doesn't explicitly say that. MS. KREITZER gave a nod. SENATOR GUESS asked about the process for revoking the commission if a notary subsequently becomes a felon. CHAIR GARY STEVENS noted she was referring to page 4, line 6. MS. KREITZER replied that because they don't collect such information, someone would first have to file a complaint and then the process on page 11 would be set into place. The lt. governor would hear the complaint and since felony convictions are a matter of public record, determining the validity of the complaint would be a simple matter. SENATOR GUESS asked if there is a reapplication process after four years at which time the office might check for felony convictions. MS. KREITZER said they decided they didn't want to disrupt current commissions so the only way someone would lose their commission would be if a valid complaint were filed. The new requirements become effective when a term ends and the notary reapplies. SENATOR GUESS clarified she was asking about cases in which a notary became a felon after they had received a commission. MS. KREITZER said it would be the same complaint driven process. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked for verification that no one had ever lost their commission because of a felony conviction. MR. CLARK said he has received complaints from the public about notaries supposedly being felons, but because they don't have the authority to investigate or discipline notaries, they haven't followed up on the allegations. SENATOR GUESS noted she didn't see any mention in the fiscal note, but she wondered if the lt. governor's office would begin to conduct background checks. MS. KREITZER stated they wouldn't run checks. Applicants will be taken at their word. SENATOR COWDERY asked if signature verification is the only duty a notary performs or is there also a requirement to determine whether or not the document is valid as well. MR. CLARK replied notaries verify signatures and are empowered to give oaths. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked him to clarify that the job is to verify that the signer is who they say they are and not to prove the document in any way. MR. CLARK said that is exactly correct. "A notary serves as an impartial third party witness to the signer of a document. They verify the identity of the signer and they witness the act. The act has to take place in front of the notary - at least the notarization..." Notaries take an oath swearing that the information they gave on their application is full and correct and giving oaths is another common act for a notary. CHAIR GARY STEVENS announced a proposed amendment was before the committee. SENATOR COWDERY made a motion to adopt amendment number 1 reading: Page 10, line 10: Delete "a $5 name change fee" Insert "the fee under AS 44.19.024" Page 14, line 11: Insert: "44.50.180(c)," CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked Ms. Kreitzer to explain the amendment. MS. KREITZER said after the bill was drafted she realized that the $5 name change fee was confusing because it appeared that it was different than the $5 fee for certificate under AS 44.19.024. The second change is related to charging fees for notary services. It repeals AS 44.50.180(c) because it is the inconsistency she mentioned between Alaska law and federal law. CHAIR GARY STEVENS asked if there were any questions or objections to adopting amendment number one and there were none. He asked for a motion to move the bill. SENATOR COWDERY motioned to pass CSSB 302(STA) from committee with the accompanying fiscal note. There being no objection, it was so ordered.