In 2010, NYSFDA closely followed 94 separate pieces of legislation, ranging from anatomical gifts to death certificates and burial permits, from embalming fluid and funeral processions to Veterans' issues.
Despite what was a futile legislative session for many groups, NYSFDA has two big reasons to celebrate. First and foremost, NYSFDA achieved the enactment of its #1 legislative priority: legislation requiring that preneed funeral accounts established for family members of Medicaid/SSI applicants or recipients be irrevocable. This bill passed in late-May, albeit in an unconventional manner (via one of Governor Paterson's state budget extender bills).
Second is legislation that enables funeral directors, undertakers, and funeral firms to determine whether cremated remains in their possession are those of a veteran and, if so, to allow the respectful disposition of such cremated remains to take place with the assistance of certain veterans' service organizations. This bill, supported by NYSFDA along with the NYS Patriot Guard Riders/Veteran Recovery Program and the NYS Council of the Vietnam Veterans' of America, was passed unanimously by both the NY State Senate and Assembly in late-June and is expected to be signed into law by the Governor. This legislation is the culmination of NYSFDA–member advocacy and collaboration with prominent veterans' groups, and will serve as a model throughout the nation for similar groups in other states.
Following is a summary of key legislation relating to funeral service.
2010 LEGISLATIVE ACHIEVEMENTS
1.Irrevocable Family Accounts - SIGNED INTO LAW. Initiated by NYSFDA, this legislation ensures that any pre-need funeral account established by a Medicaid/SSI applicant or recipient for a family member on or after January 1, 2011 must be irrevocable. (They are currently revocable.) These so-called "family accounts" will simply tie in to the same laws that govern all traditional irrevocable accounts, and enjoy all the same legal consumer protections.
2.Unclaimed Veterans' Cremains - PASSED both houses in late-June, and is currently awaiting the Governor's signature. This legislation establishes a needed process to allow funeral directors who have held cremated remains for at least 120 days from the date of cremation to now be allowed to provide appropriate personal information concerning the deceased to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs (VA), a local veterans' service agency, a veterans' service organization or to a national cemetery to determine whether the person was a veteran. If it is determined that the cremains are that of a veteran, the funeral director may arrange for interment or relinquish possession of the veteran's remains to a veterans' service organization to arrange for interment in a national cemetery, a section of a cemetery corporation where veterans are memorialized by a veteran's marker, if eligible, a veterans' section of a cemetery corporation or a veterans' cemetery. The bill clearly provides that funeral directors would be free from liability for both the disclosure of the identifying information and the interment of the unclaimed cremains.
3.Physician Assistants Authorized to Sign Death Certificates - SIGNED INTO LAW in April, this bill authorizes physician assistants ("PAs") to sign death certificates. As part of a broader bill that allows PAs to perform any medical service function that a doctor may perform "and that is appropriate to the education, training and experience" of the registered PA, by extension, this includes signing death certificates. It is important to remember, however, that it is up to the supervising physician whether to permit the PA working in his or her practice to sign death certificates. The law went into effect immediately (April 2010), and applies statewide. (NOTE: a similar bill allowing Nurse Practitioners to sign death certificates remains in committee in both Houses.)
4.Final Disposition and Prearrangements (A.881-D Gottfried / S.5001-A Duane) - NYSFDA is STRONGLY OPPOSED to legislation that would extend the final disposition statute to pre-arrangements in addition to statutorily recognized pre-need contracts. This could very well confer additional legal obligations on funeral directors by having the effect of giving legal weight to such "pre-arrangements", even though there is no funding to accompany them and no contract executed. In addition, people often change their minds and have pre-arrangements with multiple funeral homes. NYSFDA's opposition was instrumental to this bill not being passed.
STATUS OF OTHER LEGISLATION RELATING TO FUNERAL SERVICE
- Nurse Practitioners to Sign Death Certificates – (A.10218-Gottfried/S.7975-Duane)
NYSFDA continues to SUPPORT this legislation that would allow nurse practitioners to sign death certificates. As doctors' schedules sometimes make it difficult to secure such a signature, allowing another health professional - like nurse practitioners - to sign these certificates would help funeral directors meet the statutory 72-hour filing requirement for such certificates. At least 18 states now permit this practice. (NOTE: While we believe the best long-term solution is implementation of a viable EDRS system, allowing these medical professionals to sign death certificates would go a long way towards resolving the existing difficulties funeral directors routinely experience when it comes to filing death certificates.) STATUS: Higher Education Committees in both Houses.
- Recreational Use of Embalming Fluid – (A.11509 Magnarelli / S.7542-B Valesky)
NYSFDA has taken a neutral ("Do Not Oppose") position to legislation introduced this year that would prevent the recreational and dangerous ingestion and inhalation of embalming fluid. This legislation rose from news reports in the Syracuse area that embalming fluid was being used for recreational purposes by individuals outside the funeral industry. NYSFDA was contacted by the bill sponsor's (Senator Valesky D-Syracuse) staff while drafting this legislation. The bill includes language suggested by NYSFDA and, as drafted, will not impinge upon a funeral director's routine use of embalming fluid as part of their normal business practices. STATUS: Passed Senate (6/22/10); in Assembly Codes Committee.
- Religious Cemeteries Selling Monuments – (S.5410 Klein /A.7798 Morelle)
NYSFDA Strongly Supports this bill, which would prohibit any cemetery owned, managed or controlled by a religious corporation from selling monuments and memorials. This bill, aimed at protecting citizens from undue influence and pressure when making decisions regarding the burial of their loved ones, is also based on the principle that cemeteries serve a public trust and, importantly, are charged with providing a public purpose. STATUS: Passed Senate (6/30/10); Assembly Corporations Committee.
- Funeral Procession Interference – (A.1530-C Colton / S.3119-C Huntley)
This bill would effectively help to re-affirm the sanctity of a funeral procession by making it a "traffic infraction" for any driver who forces his or her way into or through the line of the procession. This legislation also provides a degree of protection to funeral directors involved in a procession so long as they are acting within the scope of their duties. The bill sponsor amended and re-passed the bill following the incorporation of all of NYSFDA's suggested amendments to provide the necessary level of liability protection for funeral directors. STATUS: Assembly Transportation Committee; Passed Senate (6/17/10).
- Package Pricing – (A.5021 Towns / S.3194 Klein)
This bill would require a one-year study for package pricing methods for funerals and funeral services by allowing funeral directors to provide price information to consumers in a package format in addition to the item pricing list currently required. Also would require the Consumer Protection Board to submit a report to the Governor and Legislature regarding the implementation of package pricing in New York State. NYSFDA "does not oppose." STATUS: Assembly Rules Committee; Senate Calendar (3rd Reading).
- Guardianship – (A.8771 Rivera / S.5833 Huntley)
Would require the guardian of a deceased, incapacitated person to notify the local department of social services within 20 days of such death. Funeral directors are excluded from this requirement. STATUS: Assembly Mental Health Committee; Passed Senate.
- Organ Donation – (A.10664 Gottfried / S.4999 Duane)
Will ease the process for organ donation and ultimately increase the numbers of New Yorkers who will make anatomical gifts. Individuals who wish to make an anatomical gift will now have the ability to register their consent through electronic signature through the NYS DOH Web site. STATUS: Signed Chap.161 (7/8/10).
- Organ Procurement – (A.432-B Kavanagh / S.2087-B Parker)
Amends the Public Health Law to include the terms "tissue" and "organ" under the penalties for unlawfully dissecting, stealing, or receiving a dead human body or opening a grave with the intent of removing the body or any part of a body for the purpose of selling it. STATUS: Passed both houses; awaiting Governor's signature.
- Unclaimed Veterans Cremains – (A.10166 Brodsky / S.6840 Parker)
This bill was introduced at the request of Cemetery Association with similar intent as the NYSFDA-sponsored bill relating to the disposition of unclaimed cremains of a veteran. STATUS: Assembly Rules Committee; Passed Senate (4/21/10).
REGULATORY & OTHER ACTIVITY
- NYS FUNERAL DIRECTOR REGISTRATION "POCKET CARDS" – When NYSFDA learned that the issuance of 2010-2012 biennium registration documents would be delayed, we contacted senior-level officials at the NYS Department of Health (DOH) to express our serious concerns relating to this issue. NYSFDA clearly explained that without documentation, the ability of funeral directors across the State to perform their most basic duties to the surviving families – supervising and ensuring a smooth and seamless funeral and burial process – will certainly be jeopardized and interrupted. Further, NYSFDA formally requested that official correspondence (on DOH letterhead) from the Bureau Director be sent to all NYS funeral directors immediately. Such a letter, stating that the 2008-2010 registration documents is satisfactory and effective until new cards are issued would provide funeral directors with "official proof" of registration in lieu of and until the 2010-2012 biennium pocket cards are actually issued. As a direct result of NYSFDA's request to the State Commissioner of Health, DOH issued a letter of authorization verifying that the current funeral director registration "pocket cards" (for the 2008-2010 biennium) will be valid until the new cards are issued. Funeral directors may show the DOH letter along with their 2008-10 pocket card to demonstrate proof of their registration until the new pocket cards are issued by the Bureau of Funeral Directing, expected in early August.
- NYS ELECTRONIC DEATH REGISTRATION SYSTEM (EDRS) – NYSFDA continues to strongly support the continued development and implementation of this project. NYSDOH officials have assured us that this project for all counties outside of New York City remains active, albeit on a slightly smaller scale. DOH reports that a revised Request for Proposals (RFP) has completed its financial and legal review within the DOH, and is now being reviewed by the State Division of Budget (DOB). Subsequent to that, sign-off by Senior DOH officials will be required, after which the revised RFP will be issued to vendors. NYSFDA remains in constant contact with DOH about this important project.