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Land records are older than history. The division of land into recognized parcels is as old as tribal warfare when territory was divided by natural boundaries such as rivers, mountains, valleys and seas. The right to claim specified real property goes back before written history. Richard Hogan of the Connecticut Attorneys Title Insurance Co. tells a story from one of his law professors. Legend has it that, in certain European villages, in order to insure that real property transactions would be remembered, villagers would be gathered together and a boy would be whipped. The idea being that the boy, and the villagers, would remember the change of ownership for the rest of their lives. That oral history method gave forth to written records. Now millions of pieces of paper, taking up huge amounts of space, are kept in town and county government buildings across the United States, serving to organize land into precisely detailed units. Those documents are accessible to anyone able and willing to travel to local clerks and assessors’ offices. The methodology has changed little since the founding of the Republic. In the near future, though, that may change in Connecticut, if the last act of the now nearly-defunct Law Revision Committee, a victim of last year’s budget cuts, is adopted. The Electronic Land Records study group is about to issue its final report, in which the recommendation is the creation of a state Electronic Land Records Commission. The commission’s responsibilities would include creating standards for the digitization of existing land records from paper, photostat, and microfiche archives; and how municipalities should access and, eventually, file land records electronically. It is by any standard the most significant change to property record management in memory. Norman Roos, of Brown, Raysman Millstein, Felder & Steiner in Hartford, and counsel to the Connecticut Mortgage Bankers Association, is a leading advocate of electronic land records. “What we are trying to create with the Law Revision proposal is a legal framework for the recording of electronic land records.” In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Electronic Signatures in Global and National Commerce Act (ESIGA) into law. That act elevated the status of electronic transactions by validating electronic signatures, records and contracts. “No doubt it is the future,” said Sandra Hutton, town clerk of Middletown and president of the Connecticut Town Clerks Association. While the banking industry is making a push for electronic recording, Hutton observed, “We want to be part of the process, but there are real issues that must be addressed. We still have town clerks without computers or e-mail in some smaller communities.” An advanced system is now in place in Fairfax County, Virginia, where the past several decades have seen a series of small steps leading from traditional paper processes to fully digital ones that eliminate paper for “certificates of satisfaction,” which are the equivalent of a mortgage release. Those documents are now being accepted for recording electronically, and the fully paperless digital records have been integrated with the rest of the county’s recording system. While parchment documents of historical interest, such as deeds bearing the names of George Washington and George Mason, are protected, they have also been brought into the modern age. Fannie Mae and other the secondary mortgage market leaders are in large part the sand to the oyster of electronic recording. They have intimated that in not so many years electronic mortgage will be receiving a premium of “possible one or two basis points,” according to Hogan. Roos who has been leading the charge for electronic land records since a conference at Western New England College law school three years ago, said the study committee has addressed many legitimate concerns. “Electronic land recording will be faster, cheaper and more accessible than the dusty files of today’s system,” Roos concluded. Though a significant issue for attorneys, bankers, title insurers, mortgage lenders and town clerks, electronic land records is running under the radar of the Connecticut General Assembly. “There has not been a lot of attention given to the issue so far,” said State Rep. Steve Fontana. If electronic land records is going to be seriously considered this session it needs to get the attention of the villagers in the House and Senate.

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