4/20/2009 - Reads like a headline from The Onion, doesn't it? Senate Bill 796, a bill that purports to better regulate the changing funeral industry, contains a remarkable provision:
“An individual may not practice as a death care consultant unless the individual is licensed as a death care consultant under section 4 of this 2009 Act. Regardless of any title used by the individual, an individual practices as a death care consultant if the individual offers, for payment, consultations or workshops to individuals or groups regarding funeral or final disposition services.”
Plain English ™ Translation - Consumer advocates, home funeral guides, or anyone else has to pass a test and get a license from the state before charging even a dollar to give a workshop on anything to do with funerals or funeral planning. And what creeping menace will this protect the funeral-buying public from? Private citizens (mostly women, some known as death midwives, others as home funeral guides or consultants) who teach people practical, common-sense ways to take on the final care of a dead relative in the home, by the family, mortuary-free. Yes, it's perfectly legal to do so, though we suspect there are some in the commercial funeral business that dearly wish it weren't.
The bill was introduced by Oregon Senator Vicki Walker. Here's FCA's letter opposing the unconstitutional provisions of SB 796. If you care about free speech and the right to free choice in funerals, contact your Oregon legislator. And if you appreciate what FCA does as the only nonprofit consumer watchdog on these issues, please consider supporting us. Without your donations, we wouldn't be here.
6/7/2009 UPDATE - We've been told by several people who've attended committee meetings in the Oregon House (yep, the bill made it through the Senate, astonishingly) that Senator Walker has amended it to read:
“An individual may not practice as a death care consultant unless the individual is licensed as a death care consultant under section 4 of this 2009 Act. Regardless of any title used by the individual, an individual practices as a death care consultant if the individual offers, for payment, consultations regarding funeral or final disposition services.”
We can't confirm this, since neither Senator Walker, nor more than a dozen of her colleagues have bothered to respond to our letters and emails. The amendment solves nothing, of course - it merely makes the wording vaguer, and thus more alarming. And it will not stave off likely legal challenges on First Amendment grounds.