ANNAPOLIS – Two weeks ago, some Maryland lawmakers decided they did not need laws to regulate crematories – they had had no complaints from the public.
But the initial discovery Saturday of the now more than 200 rotting corpses outside a Georgia crematory has prompted some reconsideration in the General Assembly.
“We’ve got to take another look at (the issue),” said Sen. Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, whose Senate Finance Committee voted 9-1 Feb. 7 to kill a Senate bill calling for such measures.
The bill, sponsored by Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel, is still alive in the House and, should it pass there, would be assigned to Bromwell’s committee. The committee killed her previous effort last year, even though it had unanimous House approval.
Maryland is one of just eight states with no laws regulating crematories.
Opposing lawmakers have been reluctant to approve legislation primarily because there were no complaints to the state about crematories. That’s what killed this year’s Senate bill, sponsored by Sen. John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel.
“In two years, there has not been testimony to warrant this regulation,” Bromwell said Thursday. However, he has promised that Cadden’s bill would get a fair hearing, should it win House approval again.
Complaints are few because there is no agency for people to contact, said Stephen Sklar, president of the Office of Cemetery Oversight.
Crematory complaints now go to the Attorney General’s Office, which has forwarded them to Sklar’s office or the state Board of Morticians, depending on whether the crematory in question is affiliated with a cemetery or a funeral home, said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran.
But those state agencies have no authority to act upon crematory complaints under the law, something Curran’s office learned just recently.
The state’s 24 crematories are regulated by zoning laws and by the Maryland Department of the Environment for air quality from smokestack emissions, Cadden said. No one regulates their operation or equipment. The bill would require crematories affiliated with cemeteries and the state’s only unaffiliated crematory in Beltsville to be regulated by the Office of Cemetery Oversight. Those affiliated with funeral homes would be regulated by the state Board of Morticians. That shared regulatory responsibility disturbs Bromwell’s committee as well. “I’m not really happy with the fact we’ve got two different groups that want to regulate this,” Bromwell said. “It’s just a proliferation of this under- the-turf battle.” The bill also would mandate annual surprise inspections, regulate operating procedures, and institute a $300 licensing fee, with license renewal mandated every two years. Sklar’s office would publish information about consumer rights in the purchase of crematory services to help consumers understand crematory operations. Because it relies on existing agencies for regulation, the crematory bill would cost the state nothing, according to the fiscal note for the bill. In Georgia, where authorities are still trying to sort out the remains of hundreds of people, Ray Brent Marsh, 28, the operator of Tri-State Crematory in Noble, Ga., faces 16 felony counts of theft by deception for cremations not performed. In some instances, Marsh gave families wood chips or cement dust instead of the remains of their loved ones. Astle foresaw such problems, warning at a Feb. 7 hearing: “When you bring your grandmother to get cremated, you can’t be sure whether the ashes you get back are her or the dog from down the street.” Maryland has one of the highest cremation rates in the country, at 24 percent of all deaths. That number is expected to reach 40 percent in eight years, Sklar said. The bill is designed to boost consumer confidence in the death-care industry, give the public protection against negligence and provide businesses with legal protection from suits when the firms comply with all state regulations. Georgia’s experience should prompt all states to enact cremation laws, said Bob Fells, general counsel for International Cemetery and Funeral Association in Reston, Va. “The main thing is providing mandatory inspections,” Fells said, adding the association supports them. “Legislation regarding this sort of thing is usually reactive rather than proactive. It’s just human nature.” “There has to be a state response to strengthen consumer confidence in the death-care industry,” Sklar said. “Regulating would be a very good stride.” -30- CNS-2-21-02