Jerry Kopel

Funeral Bill 2008


Jan. 14, 2008

By Jerry Kopel

Imagine a diamond-shaped traffic sign. Only it's blank.

At the top point is Gov . Bill Ritter, who will make the final decision. At the bottom point is the Colorado Funeral Directors Association, whose Sunrise application seeks licensing of funeral directors, embalmers, cremationists, and mortuary science practitioners. Interns would be certified.

The applicant would also like to have licensing "for any business that provides goods or services for the public" and all "funeral establishments."

What is not mentioned is that if they were successful, Colorado would have more licensing in this area of occupation than any other state or territory.

Standing at the left point on the sign is Rep. Debbie Stafford (D), heroine of the morticians, whose most recent regulatory bill on funerals in 2007 would have only licensed mortuary science practitioners, who happen to be persons skilled in all the other occupations: funeral directors, embalmers, and cremationists.

At the right point on the sign is Rico Munn, Ritter's appointee and director of the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies (DORA) whose research report on the Funeral Directors application, gave in for registration of one person at each funeral home, after DORA's quarter century decisions of no licensing or certification or registration.

DORA states "it is clear that consumers are not utilizing the existing laws to seek redress from funeral service practitioners who have violated the law". Colorado's mortuary science code, CRS 12-54-101, et seq., is one of the most strict consumer protection codes in the United States.

In addition, there are other protections provided by the Federal Trade Commission, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Americans With Disabilities Act.

DORA continues: "It is unclear whether the consumers failed to realize that existing laws are available to serve as protection to the public, or the alleged violations are too emotionally painful to pursue via the court system."

DORA recommends that its Division of Registrations "be directed to implement a registration requirement for a designated funeral director at each establishment.

The person "would be ultimately responsible for the establishment and its employees adhering to the existing funeral service laws. If a complaint of a violation of existing statutes is received, the division should have the authority to investigate the alleged violation and, if necessary, initiate formal disciplinary action, including ... fines, against the registered Funeral Director."

In addition, DORA wants funeral homes to provide how to go about contacting the Division to present a formal complaint.

Based on an extrapolation of data in the report, it appears Colorado presently has about 1,150 persons involved in funeral services, who would be licensed under the proposed law. According to the presenters of the Sunrise application, on page 7 "practitioners who have had difficulties in other states have relocated in Colorado", and "thereby rendering consumers susceptible to harm by unregulated funeral service practitioners".

In the past quarter century, proponents of licensing have consistently hammered us with this allegation, which is a typical smear approach. Disciplinary actions are generally public records in most states. Who are these law breakers and why hasn't the Sunrise application sponsors identified them?

The Sunrise law differs from the Sunset law. Under Sunset, DORA presents the recommendations to a standing committee which adopts all or some of the suggestions to make up a bill, and the committee chairman appoints the chief sponsor.

Under Sunrise, the applicant chooses a legislator to carry the measure, and the sponsor determines what language to put in the bill, or leaves that up to the applicant. It really doesn't matter how the language starts out. What matters is the language presented at the end to the governor. Will the governor stick with the modest recommendations of his DORA director?

Why the consistent push for licensing? I think the real reason is "ego." Imagine yourself from Colorado at a national gathering of funeral people, most of them licensed professionals. You tell them you are from Colorado, and they "sniff" and say "good luck" and walk away.

We don't license in Colorado to sooth egos. As DORA points out "the evidence presented in this Sunrise review did not identify issues of incompetent professionals working in the funeral service industry. Instead the evidence, specifically the examples of harm provided, exposed several instances where funeral service practitioners violated existing laws."

How may times have you heard: "If it isn't broke, don't fix it" to which I would add, "if its a scratch on the car door, add a little paint."

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

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