U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush Unveils The Bereaved Consumers Protection Act

September 23, 2009
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U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush unveiled legislation today that would expand the powers of the federal government by creating a new level of oversight for cemeteries to prevent the kind of abuses seen at Burr Oak Cemetery and to others.

The Bereaved Consumers Protection Act would force cemetery directors to bolster their record keeping and make those records available to federal, state and local officials. It also creates a kind of consumer Bill of Rights for cemeteries, prohibiting directors from misleading customers about the prices of funeral goods and services, and clarifying contracts for burial plots, entombments and inurnments.

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Speaking to reporters at the Dirksen U.S. Courthouse on Monday afternoon, Rush, D-Ill., said federal involvement is needed to help prevent the grave desecration scandals at Burr Oak, near Alsip, this summer and other high-profile abuse cases at cemeteries around the country.

“We know the abuses here are just the beginning. Just the tip of the iceberg,” said Rush, chairman of the Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection. “This legislation makes a significant step in closing inexplicable gaps in the cemetery industry.”

States have long set their own laws regarding cemetery ownership and record keeping, creating wide disparities in administrative oversight and enforcement. The proposed act would create a set of minimum federal standards for how cemeteries should be operated and maintained, but allow states to strengthen those laws as they see fit.

Rush said the legislation also calls for tougher penalties for those convicted of cemetery crimes, but said those fines would be established by the Federal Trade Commission.

In 2002, responding to a string of high-profile cemetery abuse cases, U.S. lawmakers drafted similar legislation to carve out a role for the federal government in monitoring the cemetery industry, similar to its existing oversight of the funeral home business. But two bills that would have set federal guidelines and expand the role of the FTC — as Rush seeks to do — failed to garner enough support.

At a congressional hearing in Chicago on July 27, funeral industry experts chided Rush and other panel members for failing to pass meaningful legislation when momentum was building seven years ago. Rush reiterated Monday the urgency to put these measures in place this time.

“This is a great step toward righting the wrongs that have been done,” said genealogist and author Tony Burroughs, whose great aunt is buried at Burr Oak, where four employees are accused of digging up as many as 300 graves to resell the plots. All four defendants have pleaded not guilty.

While Rush pushes for tougher laws at the national level, a Cemetery Oversight Task Force set up by Illinois Gov. Pat Quinn continues to explore gaps in state law that might have prevented some of the alleged abuses at Burr Oak.

The 11-member panel has called for regular inspections of cemetery records, stricter training and licensing of cemetery staff, and outlawing cash-only payments, among a long list of improvements to Illinois’ existing laws.

Article By: Joel Hood (via – ChicagoBreakingNews.com)

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