Advocacy

 

February 7, 2020

Good Friday Morning. I have to admit, this current General Assembly session, I’ve been somewhat remiss in keeping everyone updated on legislation, but I will catch you up in the information below.

There are four bills related specifically to the funeral industry. These are: HB479 (Kilgore), HB641 (Hurst), HB666 (Mullin), SB1066 (McPike), and SB1070 (Dunnavant).

The VFDA has one piece of legislation this session, which Delegate Kilgore generously agreed to patron. The bill clarifies and simplifies the ability for the family of a veteran to receive a free copy of a Death Certificate. The current law allows for the family to receive a free copy, but they have to request it with a letter to the state health department or a stop at the local health department to obtain it. Not all local offices are aware of this, and if they are aware, when printed, the words “for veteran benefit use only” are printed on the copy. Additionally, per Director Janet Rainey, it is printed on “plain” paper as opposed to “safety paper”. As currently amended, the bill will allow funeral directors to obtain the free copy on behalf of the family, removes the “for veteran benefit use only” language and will be printed on safety paper. This would allow for usage of the DC in any manner, not just veteran related uses. This bill has passed the House unanimously and has been communicated to the Senate and was referred to the Committee on Education and Health.

Delegate Hurst’s HB641 is a further re-working of the casket bills from the 2019 session. After the July 2018 Meeting of the State Board, which allowed for anyone to sell caskets at need, not just a funeral service licensee, the VFDA worked with Senator Reeves and Delegate Orrock to ensure the language protected the sale of caskets preneed. The goal of this bill is to change that. In discussion with Delegate Christ Hurst, a constituent felt the current law did not protect the consumer and asked him to introduce the proposed legislation. VFDA disagrees with his position hoping to work with him to strike his bill. VFDA explained how preneed works in the funeral profession and was able to work with him to include language that would require those selling preneed caskets to comply with all the same rules and regulations funeral service licensees must comply with regarding the trusting of money taken for a preneed sale. Failure to do so would subject the seller to penalties in VA Code for practicing without a license.

I tend to believe, though I hope not, that we are going to face the same issues North Carolina faced when the money was spent by the consumer, and the product was never delivered. Many families were forced to buy a second casket at the time of death. Time will tell. The bill passed committees and the House unanimously and has been communicated to the Senate and referred to Senate Education and Health Committee.

HB666 from Delegate Mullin expands the definition of a “dead human body”. Currently, the body must remain intact to be considered a dead human body. This changes the definition to include found body parts, separated from the entire body. In discussion with Delegate Mullin, he explained that as a prosecutor he knew of a case where a woman did not face all the charges she should have in the death of her child because of the condition of the body when it was found. He says this eliminates that issue. As of Wednesday of this week, HB666 has passed Health, Welfare and Institutions sub and full committees and was referred to House Courts of Justice Committee, Criminal Subcommittee. We anticipate there will be no issue passing and being communicated to the Senate.

SB1044 is patroned by Senator McPike on behalf on an Imam in the Muslim community in Northern Virginia. This bill revisits the issue of the license. Currently anyone who receives a license in Virginia is a Funeral Service Licensee, which is both funeral director and embalmer. This bill would change how the license is routinely granted in Virginia. The bill requires the Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to fast track promulgation of regulations for the funeral directors’ license to be split or whole, to accommodate religions who do choose to embalm. In their research to bring the legislation, it was discovered that the state board never fully closed this loophole in the law, and still to this day could have granted a funeral director only license, an embalmer only license, or the current funeral service licensee combined license. The VFDA stood neutral on this legislation because our membership is split on its merits and viability. The Virginia Morticians Association was against this bill. The IFHV spoke in favor of the bill during the committee meeting last week, but did so in such a way that the patron stepped back to the microphone and lashed out at them for their handling of the matter. Scroll down to see the January 31, 2020 update below which includes the video coverage of these proceedings. It is likely that despite this testimony, the outcome would have been the same; however, I personally feel it did not reflect well on our profession. VFDA will work hand in hand with the board during this process to make this regulations as desirable as possible. HB1044 has passed from the floor of the Senate and will be communicated to the House of Delegates.

SB1070 changes the ability to bury cremated remains of pets with humans in cemeteries. Most every funeral director has served a family who has asked that a pet be buried with their loved one, which was not legal by definition. This bill would allow the cremated remains of pets to be legally interred in the same grave as a human being. Now, if the bill passes and the family asks if they can put the remains of a special pet in the casket you can tell them yes. The bill has passed the Senate and will be communicated to the House of Delegates.

In addition to the bills directly affecting this profession of ours, there are many social agenda bills that affect every business in Virginia. There are at least five bills trying to raise the minimum wage in Virginia. They range from $8.50 to $10.10, and go into effect anywhere from July 1, 2020 to January 1, 2021. This sets the stage for next year raising the minimum to $12 or $15. As owners and managers, be very mindful of this legislation. Additionally, there are many labor bills that include mandated benefits for employees upon the business owner. Each of these items on their own may not concern a business owner; however, the combined cost of all of these sorts of bills passing will be significant.

While there are many others, the other big piece of legislation lingering is raising the death tax. While some have appropriately created business succession plans, others should watch this closely. I don’t think I have seen an exact rate increase, but the thought is that tax rates could be raised to near the levels seen in the 1970s. While this may only matter to a few owners, I would strongly suggest that this be closely monitored as well. Reaching out on these issues to your House and Senate members who represent you and those you have relationships with is imperative. It may not change some outcomes, but they can never say you didn’t tell them it would negatively affect you and your families.

We continue working on doctor signups with EDRS. We have not been given a new date, we are still working daily to get more and more doctors on board. Please understand, and I have told several funeral directors this over the course of the past month… just because the date was extended, doesn’t mean that doctors don’t have to sign up. It just means that they can be late to the party without fear of penalty. Many of you have been critical through this entire process, and at this point it is what it is… but also understand, doctors still have to get signed up. I have kept a running list on my desk of practices reaching out to me after the original cutoff… at times I’ve had as many as 7 or 8 practices trying to get signed up. So we are working on it. It may not be as fast as you would like for it to happen, but we are continuing to work.

We have spoken with the Office of Vital Records’ Janet Rainey recently and were told that she will reconstitute the EDRS Workgroup to continue efforts to improve the process. She anticipates the next meeting will be in April. This is great news as we have not had a meeting since April of 2018.

The following documents are a breakdown of all the bills I referenced in this letter. The list is quite long.
VFDA Priority Monitored Billsthis link will download a Word document
Labor Billsthis link will download an Excel spreadsheet

Thanks
Jay McIntyre, CFSP
VFDA First Vice President
VFDA Legislative Committee Chair
Shenandoah Valley FDA Secretary
Licensed Funeral Director

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

February 6, 2020

Federal Trade Commission is Now Reviewing the Funeral Rule and Has Issued a Request for Comment

You have 60 days to respond to the Federal Trade Commission inquiry concerning possible amendments to the Funeral Industry Practices Rule (“The Funeral Rule”).

The Commission has requested that in commenter’s replies to the Commission’s questions, they provide any available evidence, including empirical analyses, that supports their position. To successfully file a comment, file your comment online. Write “Funeral Rule Regulatory Review, 16 CFR Part 453, Project No. P034410” on your comment.
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

January 31, 2020

The atmosphere in Richmond has been tense with the shift in majority in both houses, seasoned staff being relocated from traditional roles (as provided in detail in our election update) and the slow start to the session leading to some very long nights in committees to push bills through the process. The nights will get longer as many committees are reporting and referring bills to Senate Finance and House Appropriations for the vetting that should have been done in subcommittees and full committees.

There are many new members who have become Committee and Subcommittee Chairs. Some are getting their sea legs quickly, while other struggle to move through the docket efficiently. We suspect a little more time will solve for those issues.

Our own legislation, patroned by Delegate Terry Kilgore, initially met with aversion by OVR’s Janet Rainey. She provided DLS with a Fiscal Impact Statement for HB479 in the amount of $180,050.00. However; it ended up not needing a budget amendment. We accepted amendments to the bill that allowed survivors of the veteran decedent to be able to get one free death certificate as well. A simple, technical fix.

Linked below is a list of all the bills related to both cemetery and funeral home activities, or in the section of Code in which some of our laws exist:
VFDA Priority Bill Tracking
HB479

Senator McPike’s bills was amended in Committee last night to send to the Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers for promulgation of the new regulations for separate licensing. You can watch the testimony in the video below. If you have any questions, please feel free to contact the VFDA office.

SB1044 Patroned by Senator McPike Funeral Service License

SB1044 is patroned by Senator McPike on behalf on an Imam in the Muslim community in Northern Virginia. This bill revisits the issue of the license. Currently anyone who receives a license in Virginia is a Funeral Service Licensee, which is both funeral director and embalmer. This bill would change how the license is routinely granted in Virginia. The bill requires the Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers to fast track promulgation of regulations for the funeral directors’ license to be split or whole, to accommodate religions who do choose to embalm. In their research to bring the legislation, it was discovered that the state board never fully closed this loophole in the law, and still to this day could have granted a funeral director only license, an embalmer only license, or the current funeral service licensee combined license. The VFDA stood neutral on this legislation because our membership is split on its merits and viability. The Virginia Morticians Association was against this bill. The IFHV spoke in favor of the bill during the committee meeting last week, but did so in such a way that the patron stepped back to the microphone and lashed out at them for their handling of the matter. It is likely that despite this testimony, the outcome would have been the same; however, it did not reflect well on our profession. VFDA will work hand in hand with the board during this process to make this regulations as desirable as possible. HB1044 has passed from the floor of the Senate and will be communicated to the House of Delegates.

Posted by Virginia Funeral Directors Association (VFDA) on Thursday, February 6, 2020

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

DeathCertificatesAndEDR01102020

___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

January 8, 2020

Happy New Year Members! I hope everyone had a safe and happy Christmas and a very enjoyable New Year’s celebration. We finally made it to the full participation part of EDRS… but not really. I want to let you know of a couple of changes still in the works regarding mandatory participation.

First, the law as written is in effect. Doctors should be participating in Virginia by now. As we all know, some have not chosen to do so. As a result of less than 100% of the medical certifiers in Virginia being on board, the Division of Vital Records has chosen to allow a grace period for further sign ups to occur. We have heard anywhere from 30 to 45 days which lands somewhere between January 31 and February 15. As such, we still ask that you continue getting doctors on board, because you can still use the text of the law in your favor. This grace period doesn’t mean that they don’t have to get signed up. It just says that they have a little more time to do so without penalty.

I know some of you have reached a boiling point with this issue and the folks who oversee it. Please understand, we as a committee and as an association have not been misleading you. We are still somewhat in the dark as to how this grace period will end and what will happen when it does. I want to remind you that in the December 2019 newsletter from the Board of Medicine, it did tell the doctors that they had to sign up. I will attach the clip from page 7 of the newsletter for your reference as well.

Again, please continue to notify doctors of the change. This does not mean the law is no longer there. It is still in place, and doctors still have to get signed up. They just have a little longer to do so now. As always, we are still working in the background on this matter, as I signed up two groups yesterday (January 7) and I have two more groups to work on today. Eventually, this will all be over and full usage of the EDRS will be the norm and when everyone is using it, we will all sit back and ask why we met so much resistance and why it took so long for us to get here!

Resources:
December 2019 Board of Medicine Newsletter
Doctor’s Office Letter

Thanks,
Jay McIntyre, CFSP
VFDA First Vice President
VFDA Legislative Committee Chair
Shenandoah Valley FDA Secretary
Licensed Funeral Director
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

January 8, 2020

Good Morning Members. As some of you have already seen, House Bill 641, carried by delegate Chris Hurst has been shared by many in our profession. We as a Legislative Committee and as an association need your help with this bill. We need for you to reach out to either the VFDA or this committee, or directly to Delegate Hurst and his staff. WE DO NOT SUPPORT THIS BILL!!

During the 2019 General Assembly Session, this very same issue was addressed in legislation carried by Delegate Orrock and Senator Reeves. This references the decision made by the Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers at their July 2018 meeting that allows for the sale of caskets by anyone. The VFDA, then President Larry Spiaggi, lobbyist Angie Bezik, and the Staff of the Independent Funeral Homes of Virginia sat down in a meeting with both patrons of the bill and re-worded the language to make it FTC Funeral Rule compliant.

When it came before committee, the questions were asked about why this was an issue, and one committee member even referenced Costco.com and Amazon.com and their funeral supply sections. Larry spoke on behalf of the bill, saying that VFDA supported it, and that the bill ensures consumer protection with regard to preneed monies. When explaining to the members of the committee that maintaining the requirement to be a funeral service licensee to sell funeral merchandise on the preneed side, kept the safeguards already in place for the consumer concerning qualification for Medicaid. This bill passed committee and the full House and Senate with a unanimous bi-partisan vote.

Now, HB641 completely undoes the work we did last year. This new language allows for ANYONE to create contracts and sell merchandise preneed. We cannot support this bill in any way. The consumer protections we kept in place last year, are completely undone with this bill. In this scenario, if someone does not properly trust the money when paying for merchandise, as it would be correctly handled through a funeral home preneed contract, could very easily lose not only their money, but their ability to qualify for Medicaid. We protected that most important part of preneed last year, and we certainly do not want to see that changed this year.

As to the section about funeral homes not having to store third-party caskets on a pre-need basis, this is already addressed in the FTC funeral rule.

Please, either reach out to Delegate Hurst and his staff, or to the VFDA and the Legislative Committee so that we can work promptly to remove this bill!

Thanks
Jay McIntyre, CFSP
VFDA First Vice President
VFDA Legislative Committee Chair
Shenandoah Valley FDA Secretary
Licensed Funeral Director
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________

January 1, 2020

Happy New Year Members!! I hope everyone had a safe and happy Christmas and a very enjoyable New Year’s celebration.

We finally made it to the full participation part of EDRS! Raise your hand if all the doctors in your area have signed up… I’ll wait! You of course know I’m kidding, knowing that we continue to face resistance by some. Less resistance than in days gone by, but still meeting some in isolated practices.

As I mentioned in my last letter, and even the ones before that, now is the time we need to start using all the tools at our disposal. The VFDA and this profession as a whole have been nice for far too long. And to quote Bill Engvall “nice stopped at midnight!!” Literally and figuratively. It’s time for funeral directors to start recommending that the families we serve file a complaint of unprofessional conduct against a doctor who won’t participate in the EDRS. It is time for funeral directors to start calling the Board of Medicine office and complaining to them as well. I have left a message with the Board of Medicine, who chose not to call me back. The same goes for the Executive Director of the Board of Funeral Directors and Embalmers.

My suggestion to you as a course of action would be this. Search for the doctor’s name in the EDRS. If you cannot find their name in the listing, call the office and ask for the office manager. Tell them that the doctor must be enrolled and participating in the system as of January 1, 2020. If they are willing and not resistant to getting signed up, offer your help, or call the VFDA and we can help them as well. Keep in mind, that we as an association cannot field all calls and get everyone signed up, so please help the doctors if you can. If they resist, do not print them a paper death certificate copy, as it will not be accepted by the Health Department. The ONLY paper death certificate copies allowed after the first of the year, will be the ones with dates of death prior to January 1.

Again, we have cooperated nicely for a long enough time. You, the funeral director have been responsible for much of the leg work of the system. But, we can all count our blessings that those days are quickly drawing to a close. Let’s finish strong and eagerly anticipate when all this headache is just a thing of the past! Happy New Year!!!

Thanks,

Jay McIntyre, CFSP
VFDA First Vice President
VFDA Legislative Committee Chair
Shenandoah Valley FDA Secretary
Licensed Funeral Director
___________________________________________________________________________________________________________