Jerry Kopel

Mortuaries and Naturopaths

June 14, 2009


No bill is ever really dead in the Colorado legislature. Comatose perhaps for a long period, but always subject to being awaken.

Last year it was the right time for "warranty for habitability" for rental housing, a half century after the first bill to do so was offered by two Republicans. This year, after mortuary professions were no longer licensed for a quarter of a century, funeral homes and crematories are now registered beginning Jan. 1, 2010. HB 1202 will be repealed July 1, 2015 unless continued by the legislature and governor.

Rep. Nancy Todd, D-Arapahoe and Sen. Joyce Foster, D-Denver were the main sponsors.

Each funeral establishment will have a registered designee with at least two years of work experience at the funeral home to represent the registered location. Consumers and the Dept. of Regulatory Agencies can gather documents and information needed about the establishment staff.

Democratic governors, Lamm and Romer, and Republican Governor Owens accepted the consistent opposition by DORA to returning to licensing for mortuary professionals . In Colorado consumer protection language was left in the law when the legislature deregulated the occupation in 1983. And much more has been added to the law since then, making Colorado the only deregulated state with one of the best laws setting standards for the funeral industry.

In its 2007 Sunrise report, DORA accepted the designee and funeral home registration. However the Colorado Funeral Directors Assn. want licensing for all funeral professions. What they got was title protection.

HB 1202 separates the occupations and sets a standard that must be met before that person can use the normal description of what he or she does. In order to use the title:

  • A mortuary science practitioner has to graduate from an acceptable higher education school of mortuary science, take and pass the national mortuary science test, and have had 2,000 hours of practice or internship.
  • An embalmer needs 4,000 hours of practice or internship and has embalmed at least 50 dead bodies.
  • A funeral director needs 2,000 hours of practice or internship and directed 50 funerals or graveside services.
  • A cremationist needs 500 hours of practice or internship and cremated 50 dead human bodies.

As to licensing, DORA states "if regulation is necessary, the existing statute and regulations should establish the least restrictive form of regulation consistent with the public interest considering other available regulatory mechanisms and whether the agency rules enhance the public interest and are within the scope of legislative intent".

DORA's definition of title protection: "Only those whose study or experience meets certain prescribed requirement may use the relevant prescribed titles". DORA calls it the weakest form of regulation. HB 1202 provides "A person shall not advertise, represent, or hold one self out as or use the title mortuary science practitioner, funeral director, embalmer, or cremator" unless they meet the required study and hours of work.

If you have been doing the work for the last quarter century you obviously know what you are doing. You meet the standards for competence required, but not the hours and education background. You can do business. But you will have to find a way to explain what you do without using the forbidden words. "If asked, don't tell."

Title protection will likely cause disciplinary actions brought against someone who might have failed to have the number of hours of experience as opposed to someone having actually provided a bad service.

I would be very surprised to see those presently in the funeral business in Colorado being charged with causing bad results. I think Colorado in 2008 or 2009 probably has fewer number of bad result cases than any state in the country.

Legislative Council staff did a study for the 2007 report. Extending from that study we would likely find about 1,400 practitioners and 600 funeral establishments. For 2007 legislative staff estimated no more than five complaints annually under the licensing approach "with three serious enough to require investigations...with one of the three going to the attorney general for resolution". The original cost for HB1202 will be $182,000. That is money actually paid by consumers to the funeral home and passed on to the state.

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Some naturopathic doctors have been trying to become regulated since 1993. Other attempts were made in 1998 and 2000. There were other years when Sunrise reports were supportive but the naturopathics decided not to proceed.

DORA recognizes that failure to regulate has resulted in harm to consumers. The Colorado Medical Society has consistently opposed regulation for the occupation.

This year, Rep. Kathleen Curry, D-Gunnison and Sen. Suzanne Williams, D-Aurora, got HB 1175 relating to the profession passed the House 40 to 24. It died in Senate Health Committee a month later. Supporters should request a new DORA Sunrise report to cover 2010 and 2011 attempts.

Many naturopathic doctors want to be licensed or else have the state provide clear titles that the public can understand. The doctors would be subject to discipline. They want a minimum education standard including a degree from a naturopathic college accredited by the Council of Naturopathic Medical Education, and have passing scores on the licensing exams.

There are many who call themselves naturopathic doctors who cannot meet the standards proposed. And some schools do not provide accepted education standards.

This is a form of patient care legal in 14 or more states that have licensing programs for incoming graduates of accredited schools. It is based on the human body's power to heal itself by restoring its natural balance.

If a bill is introduced in 2010 this column will go into detail on the DORA approach to separate applicants from others using the term "Naturopathic".

Jerry Kopel served 22 years in the Colorado House.

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