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Eye On Boise

Notary law update clears House panel after Reps. Scott, Zito fail in attempt to kill it

Legislation updating Idaho’s laws regarding notarization has cleared the House State Affairs Committee after a long debate, in which Reps. Heather Scott, R-Blanchard, and Christy Zito, R-Hammett, asked numerous questions about foreign countries that might be unstable, the Hague Convention, and the involvement of the Uniform Law Commission, but failed to kill the bill; you can read my full story here at spokesman.com.

Jeff Harvey, deputy director of the commercial division for the Idaho Secretary of State’s office, told the panel, “This new act was drafted over the course of the last year by representatives from the Idaho Bankers Association, Idaho county clerks, the Idaho Land Title Association and Secretary of State’s office.” He said Idaho’s current notary laws were enacted in the 1980s, prior to the advent of the internet, which he said has “given us tools and opportunities.”

The update recognizes the use of electronic signatures and electronic document transfer, but doesn’t allow remote notarizing; a notary still would have to see a person sign a document in order to certify that it was that person who signed it. It replaces current law with a “Revised Uniform Law on Notarial Acts.”

When Scott asked Harvey about a reference to the Hague Convention, he explained, “The Hague Convention creates essentially a uniformity amongst foreign nations who choose to participate so that documents can cross international borders and be authenticated. … That allows, under the Hague Convention, documents to easily transfer between countries.”

When the bill, HB 209, first was introduced, Scott expressed concerns, saying she believed Idaho had just started adopting uniform laws within the last year or two.

Senate Majority Leader Bart Davis, R-Idaho Falls, who has been a member of the Uniform Law Commission since about 2001, said, “It goes back to 1892.”

The Uniform Law Commission is a group of more than 300 lawyers, law professors, legislators and judges from across the political spectrum who draft model laws that ease interstate and international transactions. States decide on their own whether to adopt the model laws.

“I’ve been reading some goofy letters to the editor that said it is an NGO of the United Nations,” Davis said recently when asked about the commission. “That is not true. It was formed initially in 1892 for the purpose of being able to have states solve their own problems, instead of having the federal government solve their problems.” The commission proposes model legislation in areas where uniformity among states is beneficial, including Uniform Probate Codes, Uniform Commercial Codes, and laws on notarial acts, child custody and more. “They are interested in creating an academic work product that states can enact with confidence – or not,” Davis said.

Among the questions Scott and Zito raised was one from Scott about if she had purchased a property in Uganda, and received a notarized document, how that could be challenged in the United States. Deputy Attorney General Adam Warr responded, “It would be challenged as you would challenge anything. … If someone signs a document, the notary’s job is to say yes, I saw this particular individual, I identified this individual, they signed this document. Usually the contestation comes with the underlying document. So, for instance, an immigration document or real estate document. ... The underlying document would be contested, not the particular notarial act. … Even if the notarization is recognized here in Idaho, a resident could still contest the underlying document.”

After Scott and Zito asked numerous questions aimed at Harvey and Warr, Idaho Association of Realtors Government Affairs Director John Eaton spoke, saying the update of the notary act is very important to Idaho Realtors, who frequently transmit official documents electronically, and urging support.

Scott, however, moved to hold the bill in committee. “I spent a little time looking up the Uniform Law Commission, and it’s literally centralized planning for Idaho,” she said. “And to this point where the Hague Convention’s involved, it’s globalized planning for Idaho law. I’m not saying that there’s not good parts of this law, but we as Idaho legislators, it’s our job to write law for the state of Idaho.” She said she believes lawmakers should not “abdicate this responsibility to centralized planners which are lawyers, and I looked up their meetings, they’re all meeting in Washington and Chicago. That’s not Idaho.”

She said, “I think this is a bad idea to go down this road to allow others to write our laws for us.”

Scott’s motion to hold the bill in committee – killing it – failed on a 3-10 vote, with just Zito and Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, joining her in support it. The bill then won the committee’s approval on a voice vote with just Scott dissenting; it now moves to the full House. Rep. Lynn Luker, R-Boise, an attorney who said he’s often suspicious of uniform laws but had reviewed this one and felt it was a good one, was assigned to sponsor the bill in the full House.




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Betsy Z. Russell
Betsy Z. Russell joined The Spokesman-Review in 1991. She currently is a reporter in the Boise Bureau covering Idaho state government and politics, and other news from Idaho's state capital.

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