Reform appears likely in burial business Cemetery owners, consumers support bills at hearing of house panel

March 01, 1996|By Joe Mathews | Joe Mathews,SUN STAFF

Reform of the state's cemetery industry appears more likely after a surprisingly cordial hearing before the House Economic Matters Committee yesterday in Annapolis.

Consumer advocates and cemetery owners voiced support for bills that would establish a task force to investigate mortuaries and cemeteries and establish a state board with the power to license graveyard operators.

The bills, offered by Del. Dan K. Morhaim, a Baltimore County Democrat, and Del. Joan B. Pitkin, a Prince George's County Democrat, also picked up support from the Maryland attorney general's office.

"These are industries which have changed and grown significantly in the past few years," said Rebecca Bowman, an assistant attorney general. "We urge that you not delay in the creation of a cemetery board."

About 40 members of a statewide consumer advocacy group, Eternal Justice Inc., helped pack the hearing room. Most wore black buttons identifying themselves as members.

Eternal Justice's flamboyant founder, Carolyn T. Jacobi of Silver Spring, testified with a warped casket lid resting in front of her. She said she found the lid in woods behind a Laurel cemetery and said it was evidence that some cemeteries do not treat human remains with proper respect.

Ten families told the committee of various problems they had had with cemeteries. Anne Hoffman of Bowie explained how her father was buried in the wrong grave. Paul Madden said a Clinton cemetery buried his mother before he and his father arrived at the cemetery. David Goodman recalled months of rude treatment and mix-ups he endured after he buried his 2-year-old daughter in Adelphi.

Devin Doolan, a lobbyist for a cemetery trade group, qualified his support for reform. He said Ms. Pitkin's bill had financial provisions that would be punitive, and he urged legislators to include all of Maryland's 1,400 cemeteries -- not just the 50-some for-profit ones -- in reform efforts. A reform bill in the Senate would regulate only for-profit cemeteries.

Two other bills heard yesterday remain controversial, with cemetery owners opposing consumer groups and funeral homes. Those bills involve regulations governing the sale of cemetery goods purchased in advance of death.

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