ANNAPOLIS – A bill to oversee crematories is still alive in the Senate, but a committee chairman said it won’t pass unless the panel can change a provision calling for two separate state agencies to split regulatory duties.
Despite unanimous approval from the House of Delegates two years running, the bill, sponsored by Delegate Joan Cadden, D-Anne Arundel, appears to have foundered again in the Senate Finance Committee, which has twice rejected such legislation.
The bill calls for the State Board of Morticians to regulate the state’s 17 crematories affiliated with funeral homes, while the Office of Cemetery Oversight would regulate six facilities affiliated with cemeteries and the state’s lone unaffiliated crematory.
Chairman Thomas L. Bromwell, D-Baltimore County, said the committee would not support split regulation.
“It’s not going to pass with the (two different) jurisdictions,” Bromwell said. “It makes no sense at all. Somebody has got to take control.”
The two agencies support the bill, but have clashed over details in what Bromwell has labeled, “the under-the-turf battle.”
Maryland has no laws regulating crematories, other than those governing their smokestack emissions overseen by the Maryland Department of the Environment.
The February discovery of hundreds of rotting corpses outside the Tri- State Crematory in Noble, Ga., renewed interest in the issue.
Bromwell remains skeptical that state regulation would prevent such an incident in Maryland.
In Georgia there are regulations, Bromwell said, yet the incident still occurred.
The committee has said with so few crematory complaints, regulation is unnecessary. But Cadden said Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.’s office has received several crematory inquiries from consumers, before and since the Georgia incident.
Curran’s office has received crematory complaints for some time, delegating them to the two agencies until just recently realizing they had no authority to act.
Cadden’s bill would require annual surprise inspections of facilities, regulate operating procedures and institute a $300 licensing fee, with license renewal mandated every two years.
Maryland has one of the highest cremation rates in the country, at 24 percent of all deaths. That rate will reach about 53 percent by 2010, according to projections by the Cremation Association of North America.
Mandating and monitoring uniform procedures would help protect cremation consumers, while simultaneously enabling the cremation industry to recapture consumer trust, Cadden said.
The National Funeral Directors Association plans to advocate national legislation for crematory regulation, but supporters hope Maryland can act on its own before that happens.
“I can’t believe (the committee) would even consider turning this down,” said David Zinner, vice president of the Jewish Funeral Practices Committee. “It would be the biggest embarrassment for the state.”
The committee will take a few days to try to revise the bill to consolidate regulatory responsibilities, a stark contrast from Feb. 7, when they immediately killed identical legislation sponsored by Sen. John C. Astle, D-Anne Arundel, 10-1.
Sens. Delores G. Kelley, D-Baltimore, and Leonard H. Teitelbaum, D- Montgomery, have changed their minds since then and now support the bill, which will need six votes to pass the committee, Cadden said.
Bromwell does not normally re-examine bills the committee has already rejected, but said he wanted to give Cadden’s bill a “fair hearing” in light of the Georgia events.
Cadden said she would try again if the bill dies: “If they kill it, we’ll just bring it back next year.”