Jerry Kopel

 Mortuary Licensing and Debbie Stafford's Party Switch


Oct. 27, 2007

By Jerry Kopel

Two words were missing.

When Rep. Debbie Stafford, former Republican, now a member of the Democratic party, switched parties on Oct. 11th, 2007, articles about the press conference stressed her concern for health care reform, education, and juvenile justice reform.

What wasn't mentioned in the articles? Mortuary licensing.

Rep. Stafford has been like me, obsessive as a legislator. That is not a bad trait, especially when she is also a very smart lady.

If you look at the Colorado Press Directory of 2005-06 ( the last one published ) under AGENDA, number one agenda for Rep. Stafford is "Funeral industry standards of practice".

On Oct. 21, a major Denver newspaper reported Rep. Stafford had stated "she will focus in 2008 on passing bills to regulate the funeral industry..."

The last Stafford bill on the subject was introduced in 2007 as HB 1231. It added eight sections to present law and dealt with licensing, certification, and registration for industry occupations, and modest health protection changes to other present funeral statute language.

With every funeral occupation except mortuary science practitioners, HB 1231 permitted persons having met a certain number of hours of practice to be "grandfathered" in without additional testing.

Unlike other occupations seeking licensing, there was no need to establish consumer protections. They are already in Colorado law. The protections were left in the statute (under a subsequent bill which I sponsored) when the mortuary industry was no longer licensed as of July 1,1982. Rep. Stafford deserves credit for an excellent job of modernizing those consumer protections.

HB 1231 went to House Business Affairs Committee on Feb. 1. The committee killed the bill on Feb. 23rd. Death of the bill required a new application under the Sunrise law for consideration of licensing an occupation by the legislature. That did happen.

On or about Dec. 6th, the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies will issue a new review and recommendation on "Funeral Service Practitioners".

I don't know what their recommendations will be, but after several negative studies, mortuary board repeal arrived on July 1, 1982, and all attempts to restore licensing over the past quarter century, have failed based on negative recommendations. In 2006, a bill did pass, but was vetoed by then-Gov. Bill Owens.

Her 2007 bill would have moved the oversight of the funeral industry away from the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (which has oversight over doctors, nurses, dentists, midwives and other health professionals) to the Dept. of Public Health. This makes sense from the view of a proponent, since the Regulatory Agency research arm has consistently opposed Stafford's mortuary licensing bills.

Proponents of licensing point out Colorado is the only state that does not license the occupations in the industry, but often fail to mention that Colorado protections for mortuary consumers are much stricter than most states.

The recent arrest of a Colorado Springs funeral home owner alleged she sold funeral plans without following the contract requirements, as well as other alleged crimes. Obviously, she was discovered and charged without the need of passage of HB 1231.

This columnist does not doubt the credibility of Rep. Stafford's problems with Republican leadership as the major basis for changing parties, but the change will likely increase her chances of success with the newest version of HB 1231.

I will keep you up to date on the new study and the new bill sponsored by Rep. Stafford (D).

* * *

There are pluses and there are minuses, and Colorado is still on the plus side when it comes to economic momentum.

Sourcebook, a subsidiary of Governing magazine, has published a percentage of economic momentum for each state. The numbers, according to Sourcebook, average a most recent one-year change ion employment, personal income and population, and relate each state's performance to the national average set at zero.

Twenty-eight of the 50 states had a minus momentum. Colorado had a gain of 0.6 percent which placed our state eleventh of the 50 states. This was the same percentage for 2006, when we placed 13th.

Most of the top states were in the near west, just as they were last year. These were plus percentages: Arizona, first with 2.6; Utah, second with 2.4; Wyoming, third with 2.2; Idaho, fourth with 1.9; and Nevada, fifth with 1.8.

Of course, Louisiana was above every other state with 3.5, but that followed the hurricane disaster where Louisiana ranked 50th with a minus 4.8. Louisiana is doing better, but is still economically down.

The northeast and the New England states were all in minus numbers. Rhode Island, 1.0; Vermont, 1.0; Maine, 0.9; New Hampshire, 0.8; Massachusetts, 0.7; Pennsylvania, 0.7; Connecticut, 0.7; Maryland, 0.6; New Jersey, 0.6; New York, 0.5; Virginia, 0.4; and Delaware, 0.0.

As with many other trends, the statistics consistently point to a decline in the east and a vitality in the near west.

(Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.)

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