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RON update: First new remote online notarization law of 2021 passes

The first remote online notarization (RON) law of 2021 has passed, and it has a surprising detail—it also expressly enshrines remote ink-signed notarization (RIN) in the state’s statute.

On Feb. 9, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon (R) signed SF0029, which the state Legislature had passed during an eight-day virtual session. This move means there are now 29 states with permanent RON laws on the books.

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In addition to RON, the new Wyoming law also includes clear provisions allowing for RIN, a lower-tech alternative to RON in which a borrower connects with a notary via an audiovisual program (such as Zoom) and then ink-signs a paper document before mailing it to the notary to complete the process. Before the pandemic, Wyoming was one of a dozen states that did not allow either RON or in-person eNotarization (IPEN).

Take a look at the state of RON around the nation:

  • Here are the 29 states with permanent RON laws: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Hawaii, Idaho, Indiana, Iowa, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, Nevada, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, and now Wyoming. 
  • While a RON law is on the books in 29 states, some haven't taken effect yet (or are only currently in effect due to emergency orders). For example, Wyoming’s new law isn’t effective until July 1, but the state currently allows RON via emergency guidance that expires the same day the new law takes effect. Louisiana’s law will take effect in 2022, unless a federal law is enacted sooner.
  • Vermont is another RON state with an asterisk. It passed a permanent RON law in 2018, but RON transactions aren’t allowed until the Vermont Secretary of State issues guidelines for it, which hasn’t happened yet. However, last year the Secretary of State did issue emergency rules allowing RIN—while expressly clarifying that RON was still not allowed.
  • South Dakota had previously been lumped in with the RON states, but its law actually permits a very limited version of RIN. The state only allows remote notarization of paper documents, and only by notaries who can identify signers through personal knowledge. South Dakota's law was enacted in 2019, a year before the concept of (and term for) RIN became popularized due to the pandemic.
  • Wyoming’s new law appears to be the first time since the pandemic that a state has passed a permanent law allowing RIN. The move is surprising because RIN laws have largely been seen only as temporary measures—not as permanent legislation. When Fannie Mae issued its RIN guidance, it noted, “We do not expect these temporary governors’ executive orders and authorizations related to RIN to extend beyond the COVID-19 national emergency” and encouraged lenders to only consider RIN if RON wasn’t available. (A dispute over the validity of emergency RIN orders caused a brief dustup in Michigan late last year.)
  • With the exception of California and South Carolina, almost every state has taken action to allow some form of remote notarization via permanent legislation or temporary emergency orders, several of which have been renewed multiple times as the pandemic continues.

Wyoming may be the first state in 2021 to enact a permanent RON law, but in all likelihood it won't be the last.

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