Louisiana citizens and notaries are navigating uncharted territories these days with the onset of the Coronavirus and our governor’s stay-at-home order to combat the spread of the COVID 19 disease. Governor Edwards is taking aggressive measures to “flatten the curve” of this pandemic. We have been asked for guidance on how the order affects the office of notary in Louisiana and the notary’s public service to his or her constituents.
Questions we have been asked
As a result of the March 22 COVID-19 Stay at Home order, two main questions have arisen:
Under this order, must Louisiana notaries public close their offices and cease providing notarial services?
Are Louisiana notaries public deemed essential workers and thus under an obligation to remain open and available to serve their constituents?
Members of your board have assembled answers to these questions and some additional information that you might find helpful. First, the questions and answers:
Q: Must I temporarily close my notary office and cease providing notary services?
The governor’s order does not include notaries in the temporary close orders. The order, however, provides that we still must “reduce operations to continue with minimum contact with members of the public and essential employees, while requiring proper social distancing and adhering to the 10-person limitation on gathering size.”
Notaries who operate other businesses may be covered in the temporary close order. In those cases, you might be required to temporarily close the business operation. But as to the operation of your notary office, no, there is no order to close your notary office. Only the requirement that you adhere to the requirements cited above.
Q: Am I deemed an essential worker, and am I under an obligation to remain open and available to serve my constituents?
A: Yes and No.
On March 16, official updated Coronavirus Guidance for America issued by the President stated,
If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.
Then, on March 22, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin, in his Memorandum to the Financial Services Sector, wrote
The Financial Services Sector is identified as a Critical Infrastructure Sector by the Department of Homeland Security. The Essential Critical Infrastructure Workforce for the financial services sector includes workers who are needed to process (and maintain systems for processing) financial transactions and services, such as payment, clearing, and settlement services...
Clearly, where a notary is involved in financial services and settlement transactions, he or she is deemed an essential worker. Notaries so situated have a “special responsibility to maintain their normal work schedule.”
No notary, however, is under any obligation to subject him- or herself to personal risk to serve constituents. Nothing short of a court order can require you to perform a notarial function. If you choose to remain open to serve your community in your official capacity, we urge that you read carefully the newly released federal and state guidelines on COVID-19 to learn how to protect yourself and what to do if you think you’re sick. These guidelines, along with a little common sense, will help you avoid risking the health of yourself and others should you decide to provide notary services in your community.
You are a public official. You are not prohibited by the Governor’s order from performing your public functions. In some cases, where some essential service needs a notary, your work is considered an essential service. You are not, however, obligated to put yourself at risk to provide notary services. Should you decide to provide notarial services to your community, please commit yourself to healthy safe practices. Do your part to help contain this pandemic and avoid becoming one of its statistics.
“Helping out" means helping people not get hurt. Even in the best of times, notaries are too often asked to Help me out here ” when individuals may not be able to be physically present before the notary, or may not have satisfactory identification credentials in their possession for one reason or the other.
These days, there could be more of that. Mama might not be available to sign the will or power of attorney.
Hold true to your oath. Your job is not to help somebody out unless you're telling the gospel truth when you sign your name. Always read the entirety of what you sign. If what you’re certifying is not true, don't sign it. If you don't know for sure that Fred is really Fred, don't certify that Fred was there . And certainly, no matter how well you know Fred, if he isn't present before you when signing, don’t say he was and that he did.
Additional information you may find helpful
Below we offer you some helpful tidbits of information related to the current state of affairs
Nursing homes and hospitals closed to visitors
Nursing homes and hospitals are closed to visitors. You might not be able to enter a facility to serve a constituent. If you are allowed to enter a facility, you should take the same personal safety precautions as the healthcare workers employed there.
Clerks of Court – record by mail
Clerks of Court are requesting that documents submitted for recording be transmitted to them by mail or via electronic platforms where available. Some filings may be made by fax with originals being transmitted within certain time limits.
Secretary of State
The secretary of state’s office is closed for walk-in service. You are encouraged to use the geauxBIZ.com portal for assistance and filings.
Department of Wildlife & Fisheries
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife & Fisheries office is closed.
Office of Motor Vehicles
All Office of Motor Vehicle offices and Public Tag Agencies are closed. For the duration of the closure, licensing and registration requirements remain waived
Late fees for driver’s license which expire between March 9, 2020 through May 10, 2020, are suspended until May 20, 2020.
Penalties and interest due on state and local sales and use taxes collected by the Office of Motor Vehicles which began on or after March 9, 2020 are suspended and are waived until June 19, 2020.
The three-day period mandated in LA R.S. 32:863.1 to appear at an Office of Motor Vehicle field office for a notice of violation served on or after March 9, 2020 but before May 10, 2020, is suspended until May 13, 2020.
The expiration date of temporary registration plates issued pursuant to LA R.S. 47:519 and La. R.S. 47:519.2 which expired on or before March 9, 2020 is suspended until May 10, 2020.
The expiration date of license plates issued pursuant to LA R.S. 47:462 which expired on or after March 9, 2020 but before May 10, 2020 is suspended until May 10, 2020.
The notice of default issued pursuant to LA R.S. 32:429.4 that would be issued on or after March 9, 2020 and before May 15, 2020 is suspended, and the notices will not be issued until after May 15, 2020.
The expiration date of an apportioned registration issued under the International Registration Plan which expires March 9, 2020 is suspended and the expiration date is extended to May 10, 2020.
The period to request an administrative hearing submitted to the Department pursuant to LA R.S. 32:667, LA R.S. 32:863, LA R.S. 863.1 and LAC Title 55, Part III, Chapter 1, §159 which expired on or after March 9, 2020 but before May 10, 2020 are suspended and extended until June 10, 2020.
The sixty-day delay for the Department to submit the administrative hearing record to the Division of Administrative Law pursuant to LA R.S. 32:667(D)(1) for an arrest which occurred on or after March 9, 2020 but before May 10, 2020 is extended until August 8, 2020.
The expiration date of driver's licenses which expire on or after March 9, 2020, but on or before May 10, 2020, is suspended and the expiration date is extended to May 20, 2020.
Extend the expiration of temporary driver’s license issued pursuant La R.S. 32:667A which were issued on or after March 9, 2020 through May 10th, 2020 until June 9th, 2020.
All students who enroll in a driver’s education course after March 9, 2020 shall be allowed to begin the driver’s education course without the issuance of the temporary instructional permit until May 10, 2020.
Any suspension with the official notice of withdrawal issued on or after Feb 17, 2020 but before May 10, 2020 shall remain in pending until June 9, 2020.