Washington Report 052008

Date Published: 
Original Author: 
Robert M. Fells
Original Publication: 
ICCFA Magazine

FTC leaves Funeral Rule alone

On March 10, the Federal Trade Commission announced its decision to close the Funeral Rule review proceedings leaving the rule unchanged, including not expanding it to cemetery practices. This action concluded a review process that began almost 10 years ago and had been dormant since late 1999. The ICCFA stated that it was gratified by the FTC decision because it vindicated our longstanding position that there was insufficient evidence to justify expansion of the rule.
Members may recall that the ICCFA stood alone among all the funeral service organizations in opposing rule expansion. Our reasons were straightforward and factual:
1. There was no evidence in the record of widespread cemetery abuses to justify rule expansion.
2. Most cemeteries are nonprofit and the FTC cannot regulate nonprofit entities. Making only for-profit cemeteries subject to regulation would confuse the public.
3. Calls for expanding the Funeral Rule to "create a level playing field" were unjustified because the playing field already was level: Anybody who sold both funeral goods and funeral services were covered under the rule.
The FTC staff published a 59-page report to explain their actions and a few excerpts are worth quoting. Beginning on page 18, the FTC stated: ""Indeed, according to a survey presented by the [ICCFA], some states including New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Connecticut and Maine prohibit for-profit cemeteries. ..
"The lopsided application of the rule to some, but not all, cemeteries would likely prove unduly costly. There would be confusion among the general public as to what type of information they could expect to receive and what rights they have to purchase from third parties." (p. 22)
Even the FTC took notice of ICCFA's solitary stand: "Nearly all of the funeral providers, trade organizations representing funeral homes, third-party sellers of funeral or burial goods, regulators and consumers commenting on this issue advocated expansion of the rule to cover cemetery practices." (p. 19) A supporting footnote lists dozens of organizations and individuals that demanded rule expansion to cemeteries" to level the playing field."
The FTC responded to this argument pointedly: "Inasmuch as the rule defines 'funeral providers' to include 'any person, partnership or corporation that sells or offers to sell funeral goods and funeral services to the public,' the playing field is level. ... The rule is broad enough to encompass commercial cemeteries, crematories, or other businesses that market funeral goods and both types of funeral services to the public." (p. 19-20)
Our association's success was the result of teamwork through the Government and Legal Affairs Committee in the development of strategy based on the FTC procedures and evidentiary standards. Special thanks are owed to Chairman Irwin Shipper, CCE, who refused to be intimidated by the storm of criticism the ICCFA received in the trade press for not backing rule expansion, and to Immediate Past President Paul Elvig, who went into the lion's den on November 18, 1999, as the lone witness at the FTC public hearing to testify against rule expansion.
Finally, it is worth noting that all FTC trade regulations undergo periodic review. In other words, we have not heard the last of the Funeral Rule review. For details on the FTC ruling, visit http://ftc.gov/opa/2008/03/funeral.shtm.

ICCFA Team Visits Capitol Hill

From March 10 to12, selected ICCFA members joined then-President Paul Elvig to call on key Congressional members in Washington, D.C. The purpose of the visits was to renew constituent relationships; gauge the perception of the cremation, cemetery and funeral service industry from Capitol Hill; and to promote support for our bill, H.R. 1273, which would restore the plot and marker cash allowances to veterans choosing interment in private and religious cemeteries.
Meetings were held with Sens. Bill Nelson (D-FL), Herb Kohl (D-WI) and Russ Feingold (D-WI), and legislative assistants for Hillary Clinton (D-NY); and Reps. Kenny Marchant (R-TX), Shelley Berkley (D-NV), Ed Towns (D-NY), Joe Crowley (D-NY), Anthony Weiner (D-NY) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), among many others. Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA) hosted a luncheon for the ICCFA team in the Capitol Dining Room. The ICCFA Capitol Hill team also dropped in on dozens of Congressional offices and spoke with many staffers. Details on the visits with photos will be published in the August-September issue of the ICCFA Magazine.