Iowa’s funeral home industry may soon face new regulations after several cases of consumer fraud. The Iowa Senate voted unanimously Tuesday to begin licensing and regulating funeral homes and cemeteries. Senator Brian Schoenjahn, a Democrat from Arlington, says his bill requires funeral homes and cemeteries to keep a greater share of the money collected for pre-paid funerals in a trust fund.
Schoenjahn says they must also undergo an independent audit before the company can be sold. Schoenjahn says "We’re going to make this business a lot cleaner than it is right now." He began working on the legislation two years ago after finding out his local funeral home had purchased a Oelwein cemetery and only to find the cemetery had defaulted on thousands of dollars worth of pre-paid caskets and cemetery plots, forcing folks who’d lost loved ones to take drastic measures.
He says: "People had to go out and actually take out notes or equity out of their house to purchase something that they’d already bought. This is not an isolated case and the more people I talked to, the more people I ran into that were victimized by these unscrupulous salespeople."
Schoenjahn says many funeral home directors oppose the new regulations but he says consumers deserve this protection. He says: "Under current law in Iowa, you could sell vacuum cleaners today and funeral merchandise tomorrow. That’s going to come to a halt."
Senator Brad Zahn, a Republican from Urbandale, says he had a similar case in his community with a funeral home, what developed into a situation he called despicable. Zahn says, "For someone to be able to take advantage of these people is just unbelievable." The bill still has to pass the Iowa House, but if it becomes law, anyone who sells cemetery plots, caskets or cremation services will have to be licensed by the state.