Washington Report 072007

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

Capitol Hill roundup: Bills that could impact your business 

by ICCFA General Counsel Robert M. Fells, Esq.
As the first session of the 110th Congress has reached its halfway point, several bills are pending in the House of Representatives or the Senate that are relevant to funeral homes, cemeteries and related businesses. The following bills will remain in play until the end of 2008, when the second session of this Congress adjourns.
S. 989-Introduced by Sen. Blanche Lincoln (D-AR), this bill seeks to amend Title XVI of the Social Security Act to clarify that the value of certain funeral and burial arrangements are not to be considered resources for purposes of qualifying for the supplemental security income program.
Specifically, the bill would codify into federal law the current policy of the Social Security Administration that excludes funds paid by individuals under an irrevocable preneed contract, when the funds are placed into an irrevocable trust with the funeral provider as the named beneficiary of the trust.
This legislation has been introduced into previous Congresses and has been referred to the Finance Committee. There are currently no co-sponsors. A companion bill, H.R. 1629, has been introduced in the House.
S. 1334-Known as "the other Dodd bill," this legislation has been introduced by Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-CT) and seeks to make permanent the VA's "second marker" pilot program. This recent burial benefit authorizes the VA to furnish a government marker for a veteran's grave in a private cemetery where the burial site has already been memorialized.
Previously, the VA would not provide a marker if the gravesite were already marked. Applicants must confirm that the second marker will be placed on or near the grave or as close as practicable. The pilot program is due to expire by December 31, but the legislation would extend the program indefinitely.
The bill has six co-sponsors, including Sens. John Kerry (D-MA) and Robert Byrd (D-WV), and has been referred to the Committee on Veterans Affairs.
S. 1326-The Comprehensive Veterans Benefits Improvements Act of 2007 would, among other things, increase the veterans funeral and burial allowance from $300 to $1,270, and increase funeral and burial expenses from $2,000 to $4,100. The plot allowance would also be increased from $300 to $745 and generally apply to veterans buried in private cemeteries. The bill is sponsored by freshman Sen. Bernard Sanders (I-VT) and referred to the Committee on Veterans Affairs. There are currently no co-sponsors.
H.R. 1264-This bill would repeal the dollar limitation on funeral trusts organized as "qualified funeral trusts" or QFTs under section 645
of the Internal Revenue Code. In these types of preneed trusts, the trustee elects to pay the federal income tax on trust earnings in lieu of the pur-chaser. However the dollar limit of such trusts is capped to a maximum of $8,000 (indexed annually for inflation) per contract.
This legislation, introduced by Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI), has 17 co-sponsors and was referred to the Ways and Means Committee. Something of a perennial piece of legislation, this bill has been introduced in the last few Congresses.
H.R. 1273-Introduced by Rep. Shelley Berkley (D-NV) at the request of the ICCFA, this bill would restore the plot and marker cash allowances for veterans who opt for burial in private or religious cemeteries. The original benefits were eliminated by Congress in 1990. The bill has been referred to the House Committee on Veteran Affairs and has no co-sponsors to date. The ICCFA anticipates a multiple-year effort to secure passage of this legislation.
H.R. 800-The so-called "Employee Free Choice Act" has been extensively reported on in previous editions of ICCFA WIRELESS and in the March issue of ICCFA Magazine. The misnamed bill would eliminate employees' right to vote by secret ballot for union representation, require binding arbitration for a first contract and impose substantial new fines on employers. The actual purpose of the bill is to increase union membership.
The bill was approved in the House on March 1 by a vote of 241-185, divided mainly along party lines. A Senate companion bill was introduced on March 29 by Sen. Edward M. Kennedy (D-MA) with 46 co-sponsors. The bill is currently pending in the Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, which is chaired by Sen. Kennedy.
The ICCFA will continue to follow these bills and also monitor any additional legislation that may be introduced in future months.