Rep. Rush unveils federal cemetery regulation law

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U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush announced federal legislation Monday aimed at strengthening cemetery and funeral home regulation in the wake of allegations that workers at a historic Chicago graveyard dug up remains and stacked bodies in a scheme to resell plots.

U.S. Rep. Bobby Rush announced federal legislation Monday aimed at strengthening cemetery and funeral home regulation in the wake of allegations that workers at a historic Chicago graveyard dug up remains and stacked bodies in a scheme to resell plots.

Rush, D-Chicago, unveiled the Bereaved Consumers Protection Act at a news conference alongside a funeral home director, a cemetery owner and several people with relatives buried at Burr Oak Cemetery in Alsip – the resting place of civil rights-era lynching victim Emmett Till and other prominent African- Americans.

The act would amend the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule, which prohibits unfair or deceptive acts or practices in the funeral operations industry, and establish a Bereaved Consumers Bill of Rights.

The bill of rights would aim, among other things, to make cemetery contracts and regulations easier to understand, Rush said.

“I want for this bill to stop cemetery salesmen from stretching the truth about which merchandise and services that consumers must purchase to satisfy state and local laws,” Rush said.

The act also requires cemeteries to maintain clear records, including maps of plots, that would be available to the public and to government officials.

Rush said he hopes to include religious and nonprofit cemeteries in the act, which he plans to introduce in Congress this week. Once approved, the new rules would take effect one year after the bill is enacted.

Rush’s staff is working with federal regulators to determine penalties for violating the act, and the congressman said he thinks fines would be most appropriate.

Rush, chairman of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, said he decided to draft the legislation after a hearing in Chicago this summer about the desecration allegations at Burr Oak Cemetery.

Four former Burr Oak workers have pleaded not guilty to several felony charges, including desecration of human remains, conspiracy to dismember human bodies and theft. They’re accused of digging up remains and haphazardly dumping them and stacking bodies in order to illegally resell plots.

Authorities raided Burr Oak in July and have said they found bones scattered on the ground and shoddy record-keeping. AP

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