Processors and surety bond underwriters question state’s plan for vendors

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A policy initiative by Gov. Rick Scott has raised alarms with surety bond companies. The Florida Surety Association and CNA Surety, along with the American Society of , have written Secretary of State Ken Detzner about a solicitation process they argue will reduce the number of companies processing notary public applications from 21 to one.

The state is implementing a new solicitation process for vendors who help people process their applications to be a notary public. The solicitation continues until Nov. 15.

The new bid requirements disqualify 20 of the current 21 processors providing services to. The one company that remains standing is the National Notary Associates. The Chatsworth California-based association is represented in Tallahassee by the GrayRobinson law firm.

What has some in the lobbying corps whispering is that Gov. Rick Scott’s general counsel, Pete Antonacci, worked for GrayRobinson before joining the administration and now oversees the regulation of .

Notary Processors make sure an applicant’s paperwork is complete, files it with the state and provide other services such as surety bonds. Companies that process notary applications tend to serve as a one-stop shop for ’ legal requirements.

The new criteria the state is implementing require vendors to be able to process 2,000 applications a month. Only one of the 21 vendors now processing applications has met that threshold.

“We are surprised by the Notary Processors Solicitation #9/14-09 released by your office on September 5, 2014,” Paul T. Bruflat,  a CNA Surety vice president wrote Secretary of State Ken Detzner Oct. 14.

“We are formally requesting that you recall Notary Processor Solicitation #09/14-09,” Bruflat wrote.

Bruflat’s letter explained he and others were told the Department of State wants to provide the best services at the lowest cost to, however, they add were not consulted when new requirements and procedures were developed.

“The Processors with whom I have spoken are confused and disappointed that the Solicitation came without warning or advance outreach from the Department. Open dialogue between the Department and Processors could have resolved many of the issues that the Solicitation seems written to address,” wrote Kathleen Butler, ASN’s executive director, Oct. 10.

“Instead, we appear on the verge of a notary-services marketplace that will severely limit consumer choice, impose extreme financial hardship on thriving Florida-based Processors and inflict pain and frustration on notary applicant in the pipeline,” Butler concluded.

 Letter writers pointed out to Detzner that a vendor selection process which allows “only a lucky few” authorized to serve Florida’s 400,000 commissioned “appears to be inconsistent with the Governor’s commitment to job creation and small business.”

“The diminishment of the current list without any pre-bid conference, legislative policy change, or stated goal in the bid documents is confusing to notary processors across the state. If removed from the list, several notary processors and the surety affiliates they represent would be detrimentally affected,” wrote Rick Watson, legislative counsel for the FSA, Oct 3.

Watson said the Department’s response to his letter has not eased his or his members concerns.  The Office of State has acknowledged public information requests concerning the solicitation but has not responded to request for comments about the concerns expressed in the letters.