UPDATE 2/22/12—It looks as though SB 1502 never got out of committee, and some well-placed friends tell us industry lobbyists were surprised to see the opposition from consumer advocates.
2/6/11—Funeral Director trade associations are forever trying to consolidate their power and shut down real consumer protection by dominating state regulatory agencies. Let's hope lawmakers don't fall for the Oregon Funeral Directors Association's latest power-grab (letter to the state Senate Government, Consumer and Small Business Protection committee below).
Want some background first?
- Oregon's Willamette Week covered OFDA's last attempt to rein in the state's consumer protection efforts
- OFDA wrote an odd rant when we called them out on it
Our letter on their latest—SB 1502:
February 6, 2012
To the Honorable members of the General Government, Consumer, and Small Business Protection Committee
Dear Ladies and Gentlemen,
I write to you as the executive director of the national Funeral Consumers Alliance, a nonprofit education and watchdog organization. One of our oldest affiliates, the FCA of Oregon, serves thousands of consumers across your state. I am also the co-author of a funeral and cemetery business exposé and consumer manual, Final Rights: Reclaiming the American Way of Death (2011, Upper Access Publishing).
SB 1502 would compromise the effectiveness of one of the only balanced funeral regulatory boards in the nation. The bill was requested, unsurprisingly, by the Oregon Funeral Directors’ Association. It would give funeral directors the chance to occupy proportionally more seats on a board that is statutorily mandated to protect consumers from unethical funeral and cemetery practices. It would:
- Reduce the total number of members from 11 to 8.
- Cut one disinterested-consumer seat altogether and lower that total to 3
- Do away with the current balanced representation by eliminating the clear requirement to have representatives of cemeteries and crematories on the board. Instead, it leaves the Governor to “strive” to balance the board.
It is Oregon’s bereaved consumers who will suffer from these changes. Any fair-minded person would concede that allowing the regulated industry to regulate itself is a recipe for disaster. As traditional funeral homes become increasingly less relevant (the cremation rate in Oregon is near 70 percent, and one does not have to choose a traditional funeral home for cremation) the OFDA seeks to increase the power and influence of its members out of proportion to reality.
Currently, no more than two members may be funeral directors, and one additional member must be an embalmer. Their influence is balanced by the current requirement to appoint three cemetery operators and one crematory operator. But SB 1502 would do away with those clear boundaries, collapsing the categories into one with five seats generically filled by “individuals licensed by the board.” While the bill requires the Governor to “strive” to balance the board according to the different types of licensees overseen by the board, this leaves too much wiggle room. It’s easy to see how OFDA could lobby a Governor to occupy three of the five industry seats, vastly reducing the countervailing influence of cemetery and crematory operators (there would be only one of each).
This should surprise no one familiar with OFDA’s recent history. In 2006 FCA of Oregon publicly protested OFDA’s attempts to similarly remake the Oregon Mortuary and Cemetery Board. At that time, OFDA’s executive director suggested to the Joint Legislative Audit Committee that it might consider eliminating two of the four consumer (non-funeral-director) members and cut two staff positions at the OMCB. Astonishingly, the OFDA called our description of their actions “a vicious LIE [capitals in the original]” and suggested, strangely, that the OMCB “investigate” Funeral Consumers Alliance. I have attached a copy of a letter responding to these bizarre statements.
For more on the OFDA’s continuing war on the state board, please see the Willamette Week article from 2007 titled “Death and a Salesman.”
Nor would this bill save the state’s general fund any money. The board’s budget is made up entirely of fees from death certificate filings and licensees. ORS 692.375 confirms this: “State Mortuary and Cemetery Board Account; disposition of receipts. The State Mortuary and Cemetery Board Account is established in the State Treasury, separate and distinct from the General Fund.”
This time around it appears the OFDA may be trying the incremental approach by chipping away at competing viewpoints and increasing its share of seats. Oregon is one of only a handful of states with a balanced funeral regulatory board that does not allow any faction with a self- interest to dominate its activities. In Final Rights I document the near-complete domination of state regulatory boards nationwide by powerful funeral industry players—it’s an unremarked scandal that has left grieving people with nowhere to turn for redress when they’re duped, extorted, or fleeced at the worst time of their lives. Consumer complaints are routinely swept under the rug while the reputations of serial offenders remain unjustly pristine.
Yes, there are many good, decent funeral directors who we’re grateful to rely on. But it is bad public policy for the state to allow any trade or industry to oversee itself. I hope to be able to report on our widely read blog that Oregon lawmakers stood up for what was right and bury SB 1502 in an unmarked grave.
cc: Funeral Consumers Alliance of Oregon
Nigel Jaquiss, Willamette Week