Changes in Pa. rules rankle some funeral directors

A federal judge in Harrisburg says that regulations on Pennsylvania’s funeral business have been stifling competition. With eight provisions repealed, the decision has left funeral directors across the state arguing over which rules should be resuscitated and which are better laid to rest.

When it comes to the business of death in the state, the powers-that-be sit on the board of the Pennsylvania State Board of Funeral Directors. They make the rules.

But some rules, many say, are stuck in the past. For instance, funeral homes must be named after a specific person and they must not serve food or refreshments.

Of the provisions that Judge John E. Jones III repealed, these are the safest, least likely to cause contention.

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The ruling that seems to be causing a stir would allow unlicensed salesmen and saleswomen working on commission to sell prearranged funerals.

“Me as a funeral director, I could hire you as an unlicensed person and pay you commission to go out and sell prearrangements,” says David Lambie of Lambie Funeral Home in Philadelphia’s Holmesburg neighborhood.

He worries that repealing the rule barring unlicensed salespeople will lead to high-pressure door-to-door sales-pitches.

“There’s a difference between being a salesperson and a funeral director,” Lambie said. “We direct people, answer questions. We don’t sell them anything. They’re gonna take advantage of people and sell them stuff they don’t need.”

But Ernie Heffner thinks otherwise. He’s a funeral director in York, Pa., and the lead plaintiff in the successful lawsuit against the State Board of Funeral Directors.

“To believe that argument means that a funeral director is not interested in sales or money, and that’s pretty ludicrous to expect consumers to believe,” said Heffner.

He says licensed funeral directors will still ultimately have to be responsible no matter who’s selling for them.

Despite the squabbles, the judge’s ruling is not yet law. The state board has 90 days to appeal the ruling and the state’s funeral director trade association (the PFDA) plans to push legislation that would undo the measures.

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