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Funeral home companies work to change legislation that would regulate the industry

DENVER, Colo. (KRDO) - After multiple funeral home tragedies in the last five years, lawmakers introduced legislation to regulate the industry. However, funeral home corporations are pushing for changes to those bills.

After nearly 200 decomposing bodies were found inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose, Colorado, lawmakers introduced two bills that would no longer make Colorado the only state in the country without funeral home professional regulations.

House Bill 24-1335 would require the inspection of funeral homes and crematories on a routine basis, while Senate Bill 24-173 would require the licensing of funeral home professionals, including directors, cremationists, and embalmers.

“We are totally for regulation in the funeral profession in the state of Colorado,” said Matt Whaley, the Colorado market director for Service Corporation International. “I want to make that perfectly clear. We think it's absolutely important with everything that's occurred.”

Service Corporation International (SCI) is one of the largest funeral homeowners in the country. They own multiple funeral homes in Colorado Springs, including Swan-Law Funeral Home and Memorial Gardens Funeral, Cremations and Cemetery. While Whaley said SCI supports regulations, many in the industry don’t want overregulation.

“We have to make sure that this bill is written correctly and not just thrown together without the voice of somebody who knows what's going on, who is in the trenches,” said Nick Hodgdon, the owner of Funeral Directors Services, the largest private third party cremation and funeral service provider in the state.

Sponsors of the bills, Republican State Representative Matt Soper and Democratic State Representative Brianna Titone, said major funeral home corporations, like SCI and Park Lawn, have lobbied for amendments to the bills.

“Keep in mind that the industry doesn't really want to be regulated, but we need to make sure that we work with them to make sure we're doing it the right way,” Titone said.

Many in the industry had concerns the initial bills would negatively affect the workforce and make it more difficult to hire new employees, possibly increasing costs to consumers.

“We just think the supply and demand is going to be a little rough,” Whaley said. “We just want to make sure that we have enough people in the profession to serve these families.”

These industry’s lobbying efforts worked. The licensing bill was recently approved in the Senate with a number of amendments, including limiting the number of hours a funeral home professional needs for a license from 4,500 hours to 2,000 hours. The bill also allows a licensed professional to delegate certain tasks to an unlicensed employee. There is also an alternative path to gaining a license outside of going to mortuary science school.

“This has always been about bringing justice to the families who were wrong, but not do it with an overly burdensome hand of the government to do that,” Titone said.

However, some families whose loved ones were discovered in Return to Nature, said the amendments have watered down the bills.

“They're taking away stuff I'd like to see,” said Mary Simons. “I'd like to see Colorado get some of the strictest rules in the country when it comes to mortuaries. If we don't have strict rules, strict policies or strict licensing laws, then it could happen again, and I don't want anybody to ever feel this way.”

Lawmakers said both sides are still asking for slight changes to the bills which they said means the bills are probably in the right spot to where they benefit both sides without being too restrictive.

“There's a lot of emotions that are really fraught in this issue, and we can't let just the emotional drive be the one that drives what the policy is,” Titone said. “We have to be thoughtful about how the business end of things works and how we strike that balance to be sure that we're making this right for everyone.”

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Quinn Ritzdorf

Quinn is a reporter with the 13 Investigates team. Learn more about him here.


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