A festering dispute between Missouri’s State Funeral Board and funeral directors association came to a head in a public conference call today. The State Board scheduled the meeting in response to its parent agency (the Division of Professional Registration) blocking the Board’s hiring of an investigator. The Board held the meeting to discuss what actions should be taken to clarify its authority to hire and retain inspectors and investigators. When the Board discussed the possibility of requesting an Attorney General opinion, the MFDEA raised the spectre of a 2015 Supreme Court decision and warned the Board to be careful about ‘what it asks for’. The association went on to declare that it had warned the Board against having inspectors taking pictures during funeral home inspections.
This dispute began in the fall of 2020 when Division of Professional Registration sought to require the State Board to use investigators from its central investigation unit. The State Board acquiesced to that request but instructed those investigators to take pictures of inspection sites so that the Board and staff could instruct the investigators what to look for. That practice led the association to make accusations of a ‘gottcha practice’ where funeral homes would be cited for infractions based on the photographs. The Board and association went back and forth on whether funeral homes were actually complaining about the practice. It was our understanding that no funeral home had actually been threatened with discipline for an infraction discovered through a photograph.
But, this controversy is a blunder of the Division’s making. More than 40 years ago, the Missouri Attorney General’s office opined that the Division of Professional Registration does not have the authority to employ, or prohibit the employment of, investigators or inspectors of certain state boards. (MO 55-80) That opinion involved a challenge from the Missouri Dental Board, which relies on the same enabling statute that authorizes the Missouri State Funeral Board’s employment of investigators. (Section 324.001.11(4)) Doesn’t the Division have a legal staff to vet these types of issues? Granted, association members may have egged the Division on about gottcha practices, but ultimately, the State Board should have been given proper latitude to fulfill its responsibilities to the funeral consumers. If the State Board wants to hire its own investigators, Missouri law gives that authority to the Board, not the Division.