ALTA Advocacy Update

March 23, 2020

By Diane Tomb

The fast-moving COVID-19 crisis is creating a lot of uncertainty for the economy, public policy and the title and settlement industry. I hope you are healthy, safe and practicing social distancing with your loved ones. Although we have much to discuss on the advocacy front, I first wanted to highlight two resources we developed last week to help you stay abreast of the latest ways this emergency is impacting the industry and economy.

First, ALTA created a new resource center. The centerpiece of this resource center is a nearly real-time database containing the operating status of county recorders across the United States as well as data on whether they are open, providing limited services or completely closed. The database notes whether the listed counties have e-recording capabilities as well as other industry sources of title data, such as title plants. Industry professionals, along with our partners at Fannie Mae, Freddie Mac and others in the real estate and mortgage space, use the database.

Second, ALTA created a new daily news roundup on COVID-19. The enewsletter goes out at the end of each day to capture the latest information about the crisis and our nation’s economy. If you would like to be added to the distribution please send your e-mail address to

On the advocacy front, our efforts have focused on two issues: remote online notarization (RON) and county closures.

Last week, Sens. Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic (SECURE) Notarization Act of 2020 in the Senate. A companion bipartisan bill was introduced today in the House by Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-PA) and Madeleine Dean (D-PA). Championed by ALTA, the bill would permit immediate nationwide use of RON with minimum standards and provide certainty for RON’s interstate recognition. ALTA is working with a coalition of industry partners on this bill, including the Mortgage Bankers Association and the National Association of Realtors. The goal is to get the bill added to one of the emergency economic relief packages being pushed in Congress.

On Capitol Hill, the Senate passed the second coronavirus relief bill, which included provisions for unemployment, paid leave and testing. Shortly after passing the bill, the Senate began work on a series of additional stimulus and relief bills. On Sunday, the third stimulus package failed in a procedural vote. The failed bill contained mostly tax provisions, funding for the health care system, direct cash payments to a segment of Americans, forgivable payroll loans for small businesses and aid to airlines and other industries severely impacted by the economic shock the virus has created.

While the SECURE Notarization Act was not part of the package that failed on Sunday, we are hopeful it will be included in one of the other packages that will be passed over the next few weeks.

At the state level, we are watching two trends. Last night, the governors of Ohio and Louisiana issued orders closing all non-essential businesses. They now join California, Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York.

ALTA is working hard to reduce uncertainty about how these orders impact our industry. The good news is we believe title and settlement companies are considered essential and can stay open for business. States are using the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s list of critical infrastructure and industries. The list specifically lists as essential “workers who are needed to process and maintain systems for processing financial transactions and services (e.g., payment, clearing, and settlement; wholesale funding; insurance services; and capital markets activities).” This includes our industry.

What is less certain is the impact of these orders on the county services you rely on to do this essential work. While the guidance allows government employees that work “at operations centers necessary to maintain other essential function” to stay on the job, we have not gotten clarity on how states and counties are interpreting this when it comes to recorders’ offices. We are working with our partners at state land title associations, mortgage lenders and real estate groups to push states to ensure recorders can remain working.

The second state trend we are watching features governors using their executive authority to allow RONs. While these emergency orders have good intentions, they also come with a host of problems because most do not require the bare minimum standards our industry needs for successful RONs. While a solution like allowing notarizations over Skype or FaceTime is appealing, they don’t provide the types of anti-fraud protections for which the notary process is intended to solve. Unfortunately, even in these difficult times, fraud is a concern. 

Items of particular concern include:

  • No confirmation of identity: FaceTime does not provide enough evidence that the principal is who he or she claims to be to protect against fraud. Multi-factor authentication, such as knowledge-based authentication and credential analysis, cannot be used.
  • Cannot record remote signing ceremony securely: FaceTime and other similar platforms do not provide a way for the Notary to safely save a video of the ceremony. In the event the ceremony comes into question, documented evidence of the ceremony would not be available.
  • FaceTime and other systems cannot tamper-seal a document: A Notary cannot affix his/her seal to a document or protect it with a tamper-evident seal.
  • Non-public information is NOT secure: Real estate transactions require the exchange of non-public information. The exchanged data could not have the necessary safeguards under Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act.

Our single focus is to do everything possible to help you navigate this constantly evolving crisis. If you have ideas of additional actions we can take to help provide more certainty to the industry during this crisis, we are all ears.

I hope this ALTA Advocacy Update is useful to your work this week. Your comments and questions are always welcome. I can be reached at

Best regards,
Diane Tomb

Contact ALTA at 202-296-3671 or