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Broadband expansion, remote online notary legislation discussed during Wednesday’s General Session

House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (S.C.-6) and U.S. Senator Tim Scott (S.C.) discussed the Congressional response to the COVID-19 pandemic during yesterday’s General Session of the 2020 REALTORS® Virtual Legislative Meetings. This year marks the first virtual iteration of NAR’s legislative meetings, which bring around 10,000 REALTORS® to Washington, D.C., every May. More than 25,000 people had registered as of Wednesday morning.

Majority Whip Clyburn heads the bipartisan House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis. “We are meeting during the most difficult economic time that any of us have experienced,” he said addressing REALTORS®. “Americans are faced with excruciating questions… ‘Will I be able to get a job or have a job to go back to? Will I have to run the risk of health challenges in order to feed my family, clothe them and provide them with a home? Will we ever be able to buy that house we were saving for?’ The answers affect our entire economy, the housing market and each of you.”

Clyburn has been one of the most vocal and ardent supporters of rural broadband deployment on Capitol Hill—making the issue one of his top policy priorities over recent decades. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the vast, national need for significantly expanded access to efficient, affordable broadband infrastructure.

“We must make sure Americans’ homes remain connected to essential services. Two of those services that are so essential are the postal service and broadband internet,” Clyburn said Wednesday morning. “As we all know, homes must be connected to affordable, high-speed internet, especially during this time of social distancing. It is a necessity for telehealth, telework and remote learning. Thank you so much, President Malta, for the letter you recently sent to Congressional Leadership in support of accessible and affordable broadband.

“As REALTORS®, you are on the front lines of the issues facing American households, and you gain insight into conditions on the ground every day. We are working hard to help all our fellow Americans through this difficult time, and I thank you for working with us.”

On Monday, NAR sent a letter to Capitol Hill calling for increased investment in broadband infrastructure and services.

“COVID-19 has created an unprecedented need for reliable and affordable high-speed internet,” NAR President Vince Malta’s letter reads. “REALTORS® support a comprehensive national policy to stimulate the deployment of broadband, increase data speeds and lower broadband prices. As you [respond] to this national emergency, we urge you to support policies that ensure everyone has broadband internet.”

Senator Scott noted that the MLS in his hometown of Charleston, S.C., reported its highest ever weekly volume of contract activity this past week, despite economic challenges across much of the nation.

“Said differently, in the middle of a global pandemic, REALTORS® are hard at work looking to make a difference,” said Scott. “Because what we realize is that homeownership is the fastest, most effective way to close the wealth gap. I love to think of it this way: When you have equity in your home, you have skin in the game of America. That’s great news, and it’s the fastest way to close the gap between the haves and the have-nots.”

Scott also expressed his interest in securing a federal solution to remote online notarization (RON) policy.

“As goes the real estate market, so goes the economic fortune of this nation,” Scott continued. “That’s one of the reasons why I’ve spent a lot of time focusing my attention on e-notary. The good news in the Senate is that [Senator] Cramer is our lead, and we are working to make sure that it is easier for closings to happen.”

RON laws allow a notary and signer in different physical locations to safely and securely execute electronic documents using two-way audiovisual communication. Many states have already acted on this front, but NAR continues to contend the nation needs a uniform federal solution.

NAR wrote Congress in late March in support of the “Securing and Enabling Commerce Using Remote and Electronic Notarization Act of 2020.” As Scott noted, this legislation was introduced by Senator Kevin Cramer (N.D.). It would permit immediate nationwide use of RON, with minimum standards, and provide certainty for its interstate recognition.

Scott also emphasized the role Opportunity Zones can play in real estate’s rebound. “Opportunity Zones bring people of disparate incomes together,” he explained. “They empower local governments to have another arrow in their quiver. They improve the likelihood of affordability for frontline workers to live in the communities they currently service.”

According to Clyburn, real estate will play a critical role in the nation’s economic recovery in the wake of the coronavirus, representing the most significant way for many Americans to build wealth. “When it comes to housing, the best tools for us are our tax laws,” he said. “We should be using tax law to incentivize people to buy homes. We make a mistake when we remove the tax incentive from purchasing homes.”

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