With two of the nation’s top ten college basketball teams, Kansans are exhibiting clear symptoms of March Madness. With Topeka located between Lawrence and Manhattan, bipartisanship may be tested as tensions mount this week with the Big 12 tournament and the NCAA seedings announcement on Sunday. When Kansas legislators resume their meetings the week of March 15th, they may hear from a third constituency that has a different ‘madness’ in mind: the Secretary of State’s cemetery legislation.
When the Secretary of State’s staff began holding hearings last June, HB 2712 and HB 2713 may not have been what they had in mind. With the intent to encourage industry input, the Secretary of State formed a committee of cemetery operators and state representatives that was to meet for an afternoon every two weeks. With an aggressive agenda in hand, the first meeting included a handful of ‘spectators’. After that initial meeting, attendance dropped and fewer cemetery operators participated in the process.
Undaunted, the Secretary of State staff held its meetings over the course of the summer and fall of 2009, and outlined the problems with enforcing Kansas’ cemetery laws: funding for audits, wholesale trusting requirements, ambivalent and uninformed fiduciaries, and underfunded cemetery trusts. At the conclusion of the committee meetings, the Secretary of State requested assistance from Kansas’ cemetery industry. When nothing concrete was offered by the industry, the Secretary of State offered options between a state-mandated trust or revisions to fix the current law. That portion of the cemetery industry that attended the meeting choose a fix of the current law.
Among the changes proposed by the legislation, the following may prove the most controversial to some cemetery operators:
- The filing of monthly reports to the Secretary of State
- A new fee based on the reported transactions
- A switch of preneed merchandise trusting from wholesale costs to 50% of retail
- A new fiduciary definition that will limit the institutions that may serve as trustee
- An expansion of the fiduciary’s duties
While these bills do not reflect what the Kansas Secretary of State had hoped to accomplish when the process began last summer, the legislation reflects the realities of the current environment: growing political pressure to provide consumers greater protections and a fragmented and diverse cemetery industry. Despite how some operators may respond, the Secretary of State could have gone much further (and may in future years).