Clamping Down on Casket Industry

Legi-Tech News Service

As casket showrooms and independent coffin discounters pop up in record numbers, funeral directors are fighting to hang onto their share of California’s lucrative $287-million casket industry. They’ve teamed up with lawmakers in Sacramento concerned about consumer protection and are pushing for legislation that would extend long-standing rules governing funeral homes and casket pricing to the new breed of retailers.

The rules include requirements that funeral homes provide customers with itemized price lists and deposit protection, display all casket prices in clear view and give prices over the phone to anyone who requests them.

“The regulations are designed for consumer protection, and the funeral directors support those protections,” said Terry McHale, lobbyist for the funeral directors.


But funeral homes are also looking to eliminate any advantage their competitors may have. Until 1994, funeral homes enjoyed a virtual monopoly on casket sales. That year, the Federal Trade Commission outlawed the common industry practice of charging extra fees to anyone buying a funeral home’s services but not its caskets, which typically are the most expensive funeral item.

Since then, a number of independent casket retailers have set up shop around the state, cutting into the funeral directors’ market with aggressively promoted discount prices.

Sen. Jack O’Connell (D-Carpinteria), who wrote the legislation, said it would “level the playing field” by extending the pricing requirements and other provisions to the independent casket retailers. The bill, SB 816, is scheduled for an hearing Tuesday before the Senate Committee on Business and Professions. With no formal opposition yet, the bill has a good chance of advancing to the Senate Appropriations Committee, which must approve all bills that affect the state budget--in this case, the cost of enforcing the pricing rules.

The Capitol Scene: The halls of the state Capitol are overflowing with cell-phone-bearing lobbyists and others unable to fit into jam-packed committee hearing rooms as the last day to hear bills affecting the budget looms: April 25. In the crunch, observers say, committee leaders have largely traded time needed for testimony in favor of rapid-fire voting on the large backlog of bills.

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