Rep. K.L. Brown, R-Jacksonville, recently introduced a bill that would require all funeral homes in the state to clearly show the prices of all caskets shown on site or shown in photograph catalogs or online. Both Brown and the state’s funeral home regulatory agency say the bill will clear up confusion among funeral homes regarding what they should do to protect consumers.
According to the bill, every funeral establishment must place a card or brochure listing prices inside each casket on display. In addition, funeral establishments must place clear statements of prices on each photo or electronic image of their caskets. Different types of caskets can vary greatly in price and cost several thousands of dollars.
The bill also states that funeral homes shall be fined $100 for each casket found without a proper price display. The bill has left the Boards, Agencies and Commissions committee with unanimous approval and is now awaiting placement on the calendar in the House, Brown said this week.
Brown, who owns K.L. Brown Funeral Home in Jacksonville, said he knows of funeral homes around the state that display their caskets on flat screen televisions or in catalogs but do not always show clear pricing.
“We just want to make sure it was all really clear and concise,” Brown said. “There’s no trying to wiggle around it.”
Brown said he had not received any complaints from constituents regarding possible misleading pricing activities among area funeral homes.
Mark Dryden, president of the Alabama Funeral Directors Association, said he supported the bill.
“I think it is something that would improve our industry,” Dryden said.
Jim Thompson, owner of Thompson Funeral Home in Piedmont, said he displays prices for the caskets at his business and was not concerned about the bill.
“If a consumer is being shown a casket, they need to see the price,” Thompson said.
Scott Gilligan, general counsel for the National Funeral Directors Association, said while many states have laws requiring prices be displayed with caskets in showrooms, only California has a law requiring casket prices be shown with digital images.
“The law states that if you have a website, you have to post a general price list,” Gilligan said. “However, Texas is also considering a bill require putting general price lists online.”
Charles Perine, executive secretary of the Alabama Board of Funeral Service, which regulates the funeral home industry in the state, said the bill will be particularly beneficial for customers interested in buying funeral home package deals, such as buying a casket along with a steel vault. Buying funeral products and services in a package deal tends to be cheaper than purchasing them individually, Perine said.
“We’ve had complaints from consumers that were presented with package pricing and did not fully understand what they were getting,” Perine said. “This will help them understand the makeup of the package and prompt the consumer to ask questions.”
Thompson agreed that some funeral home catalogs could be more specific about pricing.
“Sometimes if a family looks at a catalog, there probably is some confusion,” Thompson said.
Perine said the Alabama Board of Funeral Service is mandated to conduct unannounced inspections of every funeral home in the state at least once year — adding that the board can do more inspections if necessary. The board has two inspectors to cover the state. Perine said he does not expect the new bill, if passed, to cause difficulties for the inspectors.
“We’ve done a pretty good job so far,” Perine said.
The bill would update state law to account for catalogs and digital images of caskets. However, previous law once specified that pricing must be displayed on caskets on display, but was accidentally omitted in 2011, Perine said.
“When funeral home law was being updated in 2011, that particular part was taken out and instead it just said that all funeral homes must comply with FTC pricing,” Perine said, referring to the Federal Trade Commission. “But the FTC does not specify about prices being clearly marked.”
Rep. Howard Sanderford, R-Huntsville, who chairs the Boards, Agencies and Commissions committee, said he was glad the state funeral board was updating its regulations and that the bill would likely become law.
“What most of the state boards and agencies need to do is update their statutes,” Sanderford said.
Staff writer Patrick McCreless: 256-235-3561. On Twitter @PMcCreless_Star.