Casket bill fails in committee

By Cheryl Mercedes - bio | email

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - An old Louisiana law prevents funeral homes from burying caskets not bought directly from them.  State Senator Francis Thompson drafted a bill this legislative session to try to change that.

A public service announcement by a group called "Free the Coffin" features a widow who apparently ran into a road block when she tried to honor her husband's wishes.  According to the announcement, the woman's husband wanted to be buried in a simple, wooden coffin made by the monks at St. Joseph's Abbey.

At least seven states have laws restricting the purchase of coffins, but Thompson says only Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Carolina and Virginia enforce those laws.  Funeral homes caught breaking the law can be fined up to $2,500 for each violation.  "In other states, they're buying them and anybody can produce them as long as they meet the qualifications, and that's the American way," added Thompson.

State Representative Harold Ritchie has been in the funeral business for decades. He says he understands the importance of fulfilling a loved one's wishes, but he also believes there should be a law that more clearly defines what's acceptable.  "I think they have the training, from the caskets I've seen from The Abbey," said Ritchie. "I don't think there's a problem there, but there's always certain standards people need to follow and I think someone should oversee that."

Ritchie admits he has purchased caskets from organizations like the Abbey, but it doesn't happen often.  "I know they have a ministry and I have one at my funeral home and we both have to have money to do our ministry," said Ritchie.

Francis' bill didn't make it out of committee this session.  He is optimistic that the funeral directors and manufacturers will eventually come to an agreement, but he worries it may not happen without a lawsuit.

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