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Legislative Alert from Louisiana Notary !!!

Get out your checkbook.

HB 453 - the bar association's bill to tax notaries to fund attorney fees for people too poor to hire a lawyer.

The La. State Bar Association (LSBA) has decided non-lawyer notaries should be taxed to pay attorney fees to lawyers who provide legal services to needy citizens at no charge.

House Bill 453 by rep. Neil Abramson (D-New Orleans) was filed at the urging of the Louisiana State Bar Association to require non-lawyer notaries to pay money to help fund the bar association's program to pay attorney fees for people too poor to hire a lawyer but who need lawyers to help them with civil legal matters.

For the last two or three years, the bar association has been considering ways to help lawyers "effectively compete against notaries." In 2015, the LSBA president appointed a task force to consider legislation to require notaries to contribute to the Louisiana Bar Foundation. When the task force recommended against the initiative, the president (then Mr. Mark Cunningham) quashed their draft report.

Then, at the bar association's annual meeting in January, the bar adopted a resolution to seek legislation to require non-lawyer notaries to pay into their fund. La. Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Johnson signed the resolution, leaving little doubt as to the outcome of the vote.

Interestingly, lawyers are not mandated to contribute to the fund. Instead they are encouraged to voluntarily donate with their annual dues renewal. No other person or public official in this state is mandated to pay into the lawyers' fund. The lawyers argue that they are required to pay dues, and that a portion of the dues go into the fund. They neglect to include in their argument that the decision to contribute to that fund as an association is the voluntary act of the association through their vote to adopt their budget.

If this bill passes, notaries will be adding nearly half a million dollars annually to the bar foundation's coffers to fund lawyers' paychecks for providing free legal services to those they deem needy. The cause may be a worthy one, but the services the bar association is providing under the program are not within the scope of notary functions in Louisiana.

In a meeting with the LSBA last week, the Louisiana Notary Association (LNA) proposed that the notaries' annual report could carry a checkbox to make a voluntary contribution with the annual report, just like the way the bar solicits donations from lawyers.

The LSBA rejected the idea of a voluntary contribution, stating that $25 was not too much to ask. The problem we see is that they are not "asking." They are demanding. They are looking for the legislature to tax notaries to support their cause.

What's next? Will title and civil lawyers be taxed to pay into the indigent defender board to represent people accused of a crime merely because they don't do criminal law? Will real estate agents be taxed to support the homeless or those needing rental assistance? Will grocery bills be taxed to support free lunch programs or meals on wheels despite the fact they do not participate in these programs? That is not to say that these are all worthwhile programs that should be supported by the government in caring for the common good. However, it should not be a burden placed upon a specific group of professionals or individuals to shoulder by themselves.

Whenever a person is compelled to support a program with which they may or may not agree our basic civil rights, such as freedom of speech and freedom of association are implicated. It is ironic that the guardians of civil rights in our community, the courts and attorneys, are the ones themselves advocating for this tax while exempting themselves from its very provisions.

If you find it hard to support the Louisiana State Bar Association's bill to tax notaries to pay lawyers, then it's time to register your opposition to this bill by contacting your state representatives and senators. To be immediately effective at opposing the legislation, contact the House Committee on Civil Law and Procedure and request to be notified of the date and time this bill will be considered in committee. This is accomplished easily: Contact the committee chairman (Mr. Ray Garofalo, R-Chalmette) via email at to request the notification. You can also fax your notification request to the committee's staff at (225) 342-6285. The time is now to make your voice heard.

You should also register your concerns directly with the committee members. It helps to voice your concerns using all three methods: email, letter by snail mail, and phone call.

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