Sunday, January 17, 2010

Quinn signs cemetery regulation

By Jamey Dunn

Gov. Pat Quinn signed a bill today that will overhaul regulation of the cemetery industry.

HB 1188 came in response to the Burr Oak cemetery scandal in July. Investigators revealed that bodies buried in Burr Oak, a historic African-American cemetery in Alsip, were moved and dumped into a mass grave in an apparent scheme to resell individual grave sites. Four cemetery employees have been charged in connection with the scam.

“It harmed the loved ones, and it also harms our sense of reverence and dignity for those who have been buried.” Quinn said about the incident. The governor created a task force to propose changes to industry oversight, and the new legislation follows most of its recommendations.

The law will shift oversight of cemeteries from the state comptroller’s office to the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation. Anyone managing a cemetery or handling customer service and sales will have to be licensed by the department. They will be required to submit to background checks and take tests to get the license. Other cemetery workers will have to submit work histories and will receive “cemetery worker” cards from the department.

Cemeteries will have to keep records of every burial and submit them to a statewide database managed by the department. The new law also sets a standardized process for the department to investigate complaints and enforce the new regulations.

“We would like to think that [Burr Oak] was an isolated incident. We don’t know because no one has been watching,” said Chicago Sen. Donne Trotter, the sponsor of the bill.

The law also contains a consumer bill of rights and protection for whistle blowers. It phases out the state’s current cemetery and crematory regulation, which will be repealed in 2021. Brent Adams, secretary of the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional regulation, said his agency will begin issuing licenses in about nine months.

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