Wisconsin is one of just a handful of states with a law on its books prohibiting the joint ownership of cemeteries and funeral homes. The archaic law has come under fire recently because a new study has estimated it will cost families in the Badger State an extra $15.5 million over the next ten years. Rep. Kleefisch (R- Oconomowoc) is preparing to introduce a bill, LRB 1689, to repeal the anti-business, anti-consumer law.
Wisconsin Statute § 157.067(2) says, “No cemetery authority may permit a funeral establishment to be located in the cemetery. No cemetery authority may have or permit an employee or agent of the cemetery to have any ownership, operation or other financial interest in a funeral establishment. Except as provided in sub. (2m), no cemetery authority or employee or agent of a cemetery may, directly or indirectly, receive or accept any commission, fee, remuneration or benefit of any kind from a funeral establishment or from an owner, employee or agent of a funeral establishment.”
The law, which was first adopted over 70 years ago, makes Wisconsin one of 11 states that have laws that make it impossible to operate funeral homes on or near cemetery property.
A recent study by David E. Harrington, the Himmelright Professor of Economics at Kenyon College and Jaret Treber, an associate professor of economics at Kenyon College, has determined that these sorts of laws costs families in those states $492 to $880 more per funeral. In Wisconsin, the study estimates that the prohibition against combination funeral homes and cemeteries will cost families an extra $15.5 million over the next ten years.
Current law prohibits a licensed funeral director from operating a funeral establishment or mausoleum in a cemetery. Current law also prohibits a cemetery authority from permitting a funeral establishment to be located on cemetery property. With certain exceptions, current law prohibits a cemetery authority from receiving or accepting any commission, fee, remuneration, or benefit of any kind from a funeral establishment or from an owner, employee, or agent of a funeral establishment. This bill eliminates each of those prohibitions.
Under the bill, if a cemetery authority erects, maintains, owns, operates, or is financially connected to a funeral establishment, that cemetery authority may not prohibit the burial at the cemetery authority’s cemetery of a deceased individual whose human remains were prepared for burial or transportation or whose funeral services were conducted at a funeral establishment other than a funeral establishment that the cemetery authority erects, maintains, owns, or operates, or to which the cemetery authority is financially connected. Also, a funeral establishment that has an ownership or other financial relationship with a cemetery authority may not require the human remains of a decedent to be buried in the cemetery authority’s cemetery as a condition of those human remains being cared for or prepared for burial or transportation at that funeral establishment.
Current law authorizes the cemetery authority of a cemetery that is affiliated with a religious society to adopt regulations that prohibit the burial in the cemetery of the human remains of an individual who is not in the class of individuals identified by the religious society for burial in the cemetery. This bill retains that authorization. However, under the bill, a religiously affiliated cemetery authority may not adopt regulations that prohibit the human remains of an individual from being buried at the cemetery authority’s cemetery because the human remains were prepared for burial or transportation or the funeral services were conducted at a funeral establishment other than a funeral establishment that the cemetery authority erects, maintains, owns, or operates, or to which the cemetery authority is financially connected.
Under current law, land owned by a cemetery authority that is used exclusively as public burial grounds, tombs, and monuments is exempt from the property tax. In addition, personal property owned by the cemetery authority that is necessary for the care and management of burial grounds and sites is exempt from the property tax. Under the bill, land physically occupied by a funeral establishment, if the land is located in a cemetery, is subject to the property tax.