News from around Wisconsin at 5:58 p.m. CST

2/16/2014 5:15 PM
By Associated Press

Wis. bill breathes new life into cemetery debate

MADISON, Wis. (AP) — When Kevin Pagenkopf's son told his first-grade teacher what he wants to be when he grows up, she didn't expect him to say funeral director.

Pagenkopf said he hopes his 7-year-old son will be able to take over the family's 101-year-old Oconomowoc funeral home, but the business' future could be in jeopardy if the state changes its laws to allow competition from cemeteries.

Wisconsin is one of nine states that prohibit cemeteries from owning funeral homes. A bill under consideration in the Legislature would scrap that decades-old law and allow cemeteries and funeral homes to be operated together. Those working against the bill say it's a bad idea because it would open the way for some big players to move into the state and drive down costs, only to hike them later. But supporters argue deregulating the funeral industry would let an open market determine fair prices.

State and national funeral home associations representing more than 400 directors in Wisconsin oppose the bill, far outnumbering supporters. There are only a small handful of commercial cemeteries in Wisconsin.

"There's not that many family owned funeral homes (anymore), when 100 years ago, that's pretty much all you had," Pagenkopf said. He added, "The track record with these companies that come in, sure they're cheaper to begin with, but as soon as we fail and go out of business or sell out, that's when their prices go back up."

The state's laws currently prohibit cemetery owners from operating a funeral home on the same property. Wisconsin funeral home owners also can't own cemeteries elsewhere in the state, and there can be no commercial relationship between cemeteries and funeral homes.

Ending the prohibition would allow companies to provide in-house services or point families to companies that could provide them. It's a concept cemetery owners say there's nothing wrong with.

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