ICFA team visits lawmakers
Ray Frew, CCFE, Green Hills Memorial Park, Rancho Palos Verdes, California; Caressa Hughes, Service Corporation International, Houston, Texas; Barry Berlin, Hillside Memorial Park & Mortuary, Culver City, California; Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA); Larry Anspach, CCE, American Cemetery & Mortuary Consultants, Las Vegas, Nevada; and Mike Doherty, Fairfax Memorial Park, Fairfax, Virginia, by the Congressional Dining Room in the U.S. Capitol where Harman hosted a luncheon for the ICFA team. Harman represents the Southern California district that includes Green Hills Memorial Park, so Frew has done what the ICFA urges its members to do: He has gotten to know her so that he can offer her and her staff his expertise when an issue related to the cemetery/funeral profession arises.
by ICFA General Counsel Robert M. Fells, Esq.
On February 15 and 16, a group of ICFA members met on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. They had appointments to visit members of the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate. Though nearly a foot of snow had fallen three days earlier, remarkably, the two days ICFA members spent in Washington saw temperatures in the 60s.
Then-ICFA President Ray Frew, CCFE, had personally invited six ICFA leaders to come to town to meet with some key Congresspersons. Other ICFA members who could not attend themselves nevertheless helped by arranging appointments for the group. The ICFA also sponsored a small reception for Congressional staffers at the Capitol Hill Club on the evening of February 15, and Rep. Jane Harman (R-CA) hosted a luncheon for the ICFA team in the Congressional Dining Room.
In addition to meeting with Rep. Harman, the group met with Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Rep. Tom Davis (R-VA) and Rep. Ed Towns (D-NY), as well as the top staffers to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Sen. Richard Lugar (R-IN), Rep. Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and Rep. Mark Foley (D-FL).
The ICFA team stated that it had no specific legislative agenda but offered the association's assistance with any constituents of the Congressional members who may be experiencing a problem with a cemetery or funeral home, or who simply had questions or wanted guidance. Each official that the ICFA group met with said they were not aware of any major concerns their constituents were having with the funeral and cemetery profession.
The ICFA team also discussed the eroding veterans' burial benefits as applied to private and religious cemeteries and the need to restore these benefits to pre-1990 eligibility levels. Also discussed were the 28 ICFA Model Guidelines for State Laws and Regulations (now available on the ICFA Web page at www.icfa.org
) to facilitate proper consumer protection and enforcement.
The ICFA visits occurred at a busy time on Capitol Hill and the number of days Congress will actually be in session this year are limited due to the November mid-term elections. One-third of the 100 senators and all 435 members of the House of Representatives are up for re-election. Republicans control both the House and Senate, but by comparatively small margins.
For the Democrats to regain control of the House, they need a net gain of only 15 seats out of 435. In the Senate, the Democrats need a net gain of only six seats to regain the majority. If control of either chamber shifts, all of the Republican committee chairs in that chamber will be replaced by Democrats. For example, Rep. Pelosi could become the first woman Speaker of the House, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) would chair the Judiciary Committee, and Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) would chair the Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee. Legislative priorities would also shift significantly.
Until now, the likelihood of the Republicans losing their majority status in either house was doubtful, but this viewpoint is being reassessed due to the plunge in President Bush's popularity (32 percent as of this writing) and the widespread public dissatisfaction with the progress of immigration reform in Congress.
Regardless of how these developments play out in November, the ICFA Capitol Hill visits were timely because they established and confirmed political relationships on both sides of the aisle. Irwin Shipper, CCE, chairman of the Government and Legal Affairs Committee and a member of the ICFA Capitol Hill team, will provide more details of the visits in his annual interview in the August-September issue of ICFM.