|For Immediate Release||FFI Contact: Chris Riggall|
|March 23, 2000||
Secretary Cox: Final Passage of New Cemetery and Funeral Law is Good News for Georgia Consumers
ATLANTA, GA March 23, 2000 …. Secretary of State Cathy Cox said today that final passage last night of a new comprehensive revision of Georgia law regulating cemeteries and funeral homes is "good news for Georgia consumers." The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), which worked vigorously on behalf of the bill, hailed SB 462 as "critical to helping consumers understand their rights and options."
Final passage during the Georgia General Assembly’s last day was the culmination of weeks of committee hearings, floor debate and negotiations between the funeral home and cemetery industries, the Secretary of State and consumer advocates. The measure, which in its final form passed unanimously in both the House and Senate, now heads to the Governor’s desk for his signature.
Secretary Cox said the bill dramatically improves consumer protections to insure that Georgia families are treated fairly and get what they pay for when they purchase services or merchandise from cemeteries, funeral homes, casket stores and monument dealers.
The legislation was sponsored in the Senate by Senator Greg Hecht (D-Jonesboro) and in the House by Representative Thomas B. Murphy (D-Bremen). "I am extremely grateful to Senator Hecht and to Speaker Murphy for their tireless efforts to move this bill to final passage," said Secretary Cox. "I also appreciate the work of Rep. Robert Ray (D-Fort Valley) who presented the bill in committee and on the House floor. The AARP also played an essential role in keeping this bill on track and maintaining its pro-consumer focus. This measure gives us substantially increased authority and resources to modernize regulation of the death care industry and attack abuses of consumer trust whenever and wherever they occur," Secretary Cox added.
According to Georgia AARP State Legislative Committee Chair Nevin Jones, "The death care industry has expanded drastically, so a more coordinated oversight process was really needed. Now funeral homes, cemeteries and casket stores must all meet the same registration and licensing requirements." Georgia AARP represents some 800,000 members in the state.
The Georgia Cemetery and Funeral Services Act of 2000 was drafted by Secretary Cox following public hearings last year in six cities throughout Georgia. Testimony from citizens and industry representatives made it clear that reform was needed. The cemetery and funeral home industries have undergone dramatic change in the last decade as large conglomerates have acquired hundreds of cemeteries and funeral homes in the state. With those market changes have come significantly increased complaints from consumers about sales practices, quality of service, and disclosure of fees and costs. State laws regulating the industry had not been revised since 1983.
SB 462 addresses a number of problems that exist in the industry today:
Problem: "Perpetual care" for cemeteries is not defined in current law; no provisions exist to require cemeteries to properly maintain grounds and improvements.
Legislative Solution: SB 462 for the first time gives the Secretary of State the authority to insure that the care and maintenance consumers purchase in life is in fact provided after their death. Cemeteries who fail to meet perpetual care standards could face fines or license suspension.
Problem: Some "bad egg" salespeople have deceived and misled consumers with fraudulent practices such as selling the same cemetery lot multiple times, selling lots that were not where they were claimed to be and deceiving consumers about prices and costs.
Legislative Solution: The bill requires that all pre-need salespeople register with the state. Individuals with a history of felony convictions or misdemeanor or civil judgments involving fraud would be barred from the industry. The Secretary of State would be allowed to penalize bad salespeople and ban them from the industry.
Problem: Merchandise purchased from funeral homes on a pre-need basis is 100 percent refundable to the consumer, but items purchased from cemeteries are not refundable.
Legislative Solution: SB 462 equalizes treatment of the two industries and provides that that moneys spent on caskets, monuments and vaults is 100 % refundable until the time of death. The bill also provides at least 100 % of the retail price of caskets and 110% of the wholesale price of monuments and vaults be placed in trust by the pre-need dealer.
Problem: Some cemeteries charge consumers exorbitant additional fees if they purchase a monument from an outside dealer.
Legislative Solution: Under the bill cemeteries are prohibited from charging any fee in excess of $50 for the installation of monuments sold and installed by outside vendors.
Problem: Some consumers are not fully informed of the rules, regulations and charges that apply in the cemetery where they purchase a grave space.
Legislative Solution: The bill requires that cemeteries provide a copy of their rules and regulations to any consumer, and extends current requirements concerning the posting of prices for services to apply to merchandise prices, and requires that price lists be provided to any person requesting them. The bill also provides for a standardized contract to be used in cemetery sales transactions.
Problem: As cemeteries mature and maintenance costs increase, an adequate fund may not always accumulate to cover maintenance requirements when the revenue stream from new lot sales has been diminished. Under current law cemeteries may begin to spend the interest proceeds on perpetual care accounts right away.
Legislative Solution: The amount that must be deposited for each burial right sold is increased by 50 percent. The bill further requires that income will be retained by the fund until more than 50% of platted lots are sold. These changes provide a greater level of assurance that, as cemeteries mature and maintenance costs increase, an adequate fund will be accumulated to cover maintenance requirements when the revenue stream from new lot sales has been diminished.
Secretary Cox said the new law is set to take effect July 1, 2000. Ms. Cox said her office will issue regulations in the coming months to outline specific procedures for implementing the act.
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