On April 20, 2020, Governor Tom Wolf signed Senate Bill 841, now known as Act 15 of 2020, which provides more flexibility to businesses and local governments with respect to property tax deadlines, notarization of documents, and public meetings.
The new law amends Title 35 (Health and Safety) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes to include new Chapter 57, entitled “COVID-19 Disaster Emergency”, which, among other things, permits (i) taxing authorities in the Commonwealth to collect taxes at discounted rates and/or waive fees or penalties for late payments, (ii) the use of remote notarization, and (iii) the use of remote public meetings and hearings.
Local municipalities may collect taxes at their prescribed discount rate until August 31, 2020 and may waive any fees or penalties for late payments as long as the taxes are paid in full by December 31, 2020. Any municipality electing to exercise either of these options must deliver a resolution to its tax collector within thirty (30) days of the effective date of the new legislation (i.e., by May 20, 2020).
Notary publics may now conduct notarial acts remotely. The notary must first notify the Pennsylvania Department of State that he or she will be performing notarial acts remotely and identify the Department-approved identity proofing and communication technology he or she intends to use. The notary may perform notarial acts for remotely located individuals in the United States if:
(a) the notary public personally knows the individual, has satisfactory evidence of the individual’s identity from a credible witness’s oath or affirmation, or can reasonably identify the individual through two different types of identity proofing processes or services;
(b) the notary public is able to identify the record before it as the same record in which the individual made the statement or on which the individual executed the signature; and
(c) the notary public creates an audio-visual recording of the transaction.
For transactions outside of the United States, the notary may perform such remote notarization if all of the above requirements are met and:
(a) the record:
(i) relates to a matter before a court, governmental entity, public official, or other entity under United States jurisdiction; or
(ii) involves property located in or substantially connected with the United States; and
(b) the foreign state where the individual is located does not prohibit the individual from making the statement or signing the record.
In all remote transactions, the notary must identify on the certificate that the act was performed by means of communication technology. Any audio-visual recordings of such transactions must be retained for at least ten (10) years.
The authorization for remote notarization expires sixty (60) days after termination of the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency.
Remote Public Meetings and Hearings
Local governments and agencies are authorized to conduct public hearings and meetings through authorized telecommunication devices until the termination of the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency. The local government or agency must provide advance notice of any such remote hearings or meetings on its website and/or in a newspaper, including the date and time of the hearing, the technology to be used, and public participation information.
To the extent practicable, the local government or agency must allow for public participation through an authorized telecommunications device and/or through written comments, which may be submitted via regular or electronic mail. Local governments and agencies may not consider any application, plat, plan, submission, appeal, or curative amendment unrelated to COVID-19 during a meeting unless they provide notice to the public and any interested parties at least five (5) days before the meeting.
Statutory limits for local government or agency reviews, hearings, and/or decisions are suspended for thirty (30) days; however, applicants may submit requests for remote meetings, hearings, or proceedings, which may proceed at the discretion of the local government or agency.
The authorization for remote public hearings and meetings and the suspension of approval deadlines expire upon termination of the COVID-19 Disaster Emergency.
If you have any questions about Senate Bill 841/Act 15 of 2020, please contact your SGK Attorney.