Thursday, May 13, 2010

Cemetery Oversight Act in Illinois

The following press release was issue 17 January 2010.

Governor Quinn Signs Cemetery Oversight Act
After Burr Oak Tragedy, New Consumer Law Sets Tougher Rules

CHICAGO – January 17, 2010. Governor Pat Quinn today signed into law the Cemetery Oversight Act, which implements many of the reforms and recommendations of the Cemetery Oversight Task Force, which was created by the Governor last summer in response to the tragedy at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip.

The legislation creates a unified regulatory structure for the funeral and cemetery industries and provides rigorous oversight and regulation of Illinois’ cemeteries.

"We can never have another tragedy like the one at Burr Oak Cemetery. I want to thank the General Assembly for taking action to protect the families of Illinois and preserve the dignity of their loved ones,” said Governor Quinn. “With this new law, bereaved families will have a place to turn if they are not satisfied with the services provided by cemeteries, funeral directors and embalmers.”

Under the new law, all regulatory actions affecting after-death services will be overseen by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation (IDFPR), which already regulates funeral directors and embalmers.  IDFPR currently licenses more than one million professionals in nearly 100 industries and oversees financial institutions with more than $4 trillion in assets.  House Bill 1188 was sponsored by Sen. Donne Trotter (D-Chicago) and Representative Monique Davis (D-Chicago).

“Our loved ones must be treated with the same dignity and respect in death as in life. As a member of the Governor’s task force, we put together this comprehensive legislative reform that is consolidating all regulatory responsibilities into one agency, while strengthening consumer protection laws. This is about protecting the memories of those closest to us,” said Representative Davis.

The law also establishes a "Consumer Bill of Rights," so that grieving families understand what options are available to them, exactly where their loved one will be buried, and what each of the services they select will cost. The law will also prohibit cemeteries from requiring that consumers pay in cash.

“We cannot legislate morality,” said Senator Trotter. “But as lawmakers we can set guidelines for those who do business in Illinois to ensure they do so with uniformity and with protections for the consumer. This legislation is a pro-active initiative to bring peace-of-mind to the families that endured the horrendous affair at Burr Oak Cemetery.”

Managers of private, non-religious cemeteries will also now be required to obtain a license through the state. To obtain a license, applicants must pass an exam, provide evidence of character, and comply with continuing education requirements. Other cemetery workers must also complete a "Worker's Statement," which would be filed with IDFPR, detailing his or her work history and other evidence of character.

“This Act will make Illinois one of the leading pro-consumer states with respect to cemetery oversight,” said Joshua Slocum, Executive Director of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.

The act also requires the creation of a statewide database to keep record of every burial. This will assist future generations in finding the location of a loved one's remains and will help the state discover unlawful re-burials. It also requires cemeteries to post a sign in their office that contains the IDFPR consumer hotline number and information on how to file a complaint.

If a consumer files a complaint about a cemetery to IDFPR, that cemetery may be subject to disciplinary action, including fines up to $10,000 per violation of the Cemetery Oversight Act. Prohibited activities include: unprofessional conduct, charging for services not rendered, incompetence and failure to adequately maintain the cemetery grounds.

“The Department wants the public to know that we appreciate the magnitude of this new responsibility and that we will work tirelessly to ensure that the deceased are treated with reverence and care,” said Brent E. Adams, Secretary of Financial and Professional Regulation. 

On July 16, 2009, Governor Quinn signed an executive order to form the Cemetery Oversight Task Force. Chaired by Patricia Brown Holmes, a partner with law firm Schiff Hardin LLP, the task force was charged with bolstering industry regulations and proposing needed consumer protections to ensure rigorous oversight and regulation of Illinois’ for-profit cemeteries. House Bill 1188 includes many of the task force’s recommendations.


Tracy St Claire

I've heard and read about this law with great interest, but I have seen too many instances of cemetery abuse near me to believe it will do any good. (The O'Hare St. Johannes example is not one of the examples -- those graves appear to be handled with kid gloves, with a plan for their perpetual care and respect in place, even those bodies unidentified and unmarked.)

Hillside Cemetery (Elgin State Hospital) with mentally ill people, old people, and PTSD veterans) is being allowed to be recaptured by the surrounding woods, with stones allowed to sink into the ground and disappear.

Schroeder Cemetery in Gilberts (thought to be the cemetery of the founder of Gilberts and his family) was sold in its entirety to a developer, who denies any bodies are there.

Channing Cemetery in Elgin was "relocated" haphazardly in the 1940s to Bluff City, and hundreds of bodies remain unaccounted for and were left behind. They are disinterred during school building expansions (13 during the last one, 1998 I think) and not reburied. Even though this land is still populated with graves, Elgin plans on an expansion of the park with tennis courts, etc.

I could go on -- about the piles of old tombstones at Prairie Cemetery, the completely overgrown Queen Anne Cemetery, etc.

Focusing on the Alsip and O'Hare cases imply that cemeteries are generally well kept and sacrosanct from disturbance and development in Illinois, which isn't the case.

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