State association's efforts result in cemetery and crematory oversight

Date Published: 
November, 2005
Original Author: 
Christine Toson Hentges
The Tribute Companies, Hartland, Wisconsin
Original Publication: 
ICFM Magazine, November 2005

Lobbying isn't just about about fighting bad legislation, it's also about promoting the good. The Wisconsin Cemetery Association saw a need for some degree of regulatory oversight and successfully worked to get it.

A recent flurry of legislative activity has dramatically altered the regulatory landscape for Wisconsin cemeteries and crematories. Fortunately, the changes are positive and serve the best interests of both our profession and the families we serve.

Once an unregulated wilderness ripe for potential scandal—where less than 75 of an estimated 5,000 cemeteries had any government oversight whatsoever—Wisconsin now has an environment where cemeteries can operate with simple yet effective guidelines and consumers have a much greater degree of security.

The Wisconsin Cemetery Association has understood the need for greater regulation for years and has advocated for an independent state board to oversee cemetery operations since our inception.

The state legislature has finally listened.

After an intense lobbying and grassroots effort by the association, the legislature created the Wisconsin Cemetery Board in the 2005-07 state budget bill. The provision was subsequently signed into law by Gov. Jim Doyle.

The six-member board will regulate all non-religious, non-municipal cemeteries, as well as cemetery salespeople and preneed sellers doing business in the state.

The board has the ability to develop rules governing the regulation of the profession and is responsible for the licensure of all cemeteries and salespeople under its jurisdiction. In addition, the board has the authority to investigate and impose disciplinary actions against errant cemeteries and their employees.

While 99 percent of Wisconsin's cemeteries are operated by trustworthy, reputable business people who offer a vital service to their communities, as with any profession, there are a small handful of individuals who may seek to profit at the expense of consumers. Our new regulations should significantly reduce these rare, yet very real threats to our businesses and our customers.

Crematories now also regulated
While state oversight of Wisconsin cemeteries was clearing lacking, the situation for crematories operating in the state was infinitely worse. Wisconsin law provided absolutely no regulation over crematories.

In an effort to address this issue, the Wisconsin Cemetery Association worked closely with the state's two largest funeral director groups to pass a sweeping crematory reform bill. The law requires Wisconsin crematories to operate under a regulated framework and sets clear-cut standards for the cremation of human remains.

The bill, which Gov. Doyle signed in August, also creates a Crematory Authority Council in the Department of Regulation and Licensing to register crematories and help oversee the industry.

With cremation quickly growing in popularity as a choice of disposition, it's essential for state government to provide guiding principles for crematories. The new law clarifies many questions regarding the cremation process and provides consumers with the assurance that cremation services are provided only by registered, authorized agents.

We are fortunate that Wisconsin has not been touched by the cremation scandals that have devastated families in other states such as Georgia and Connecticut. Now we have the protections in place to help ensure they don't happen here in the future.

It's been a busy year for the Wisconsin Cemetery Association, but also a very successful one. We have seen drastic regulatory changes in our profession, but they're changes that benefit our businesses as well as the Wisconsin families who depend on our services.