State bill regulating funeral directors passes Senate committee after testimony

Posted at 6:37 AM, Mar 27, 2024
and last updated 2024-03-27 08:37:45-04

Right now, pretty much anyone can become a funeral director in Colorado. It's the only state in the nation that doesn't require funeral directors to be licensed.

Some state lawmakers are working to change that with Senate Bill 173, which would require funeral directors, embalmers, cremationists and other mortuary science professionals to be licensed in order to practice in Colorado. In order for a funeral director to obtain a license, the legislation would require them to graduate from an approved mortuary science school, pass the arts section of the national board examination, complete a background check, and serve an apprenticeship of one year or longer.

The bill unanimously passed a Senate committee Tuesday afternoon after lawmakers heard testimony from mortuary science professionals and many family members whose loved ones were identified inside the Return to Nature Funeral Home in Penrose. Jon and Carie Hallford, the co-owners of the funeral home, are accused of improperly storing 190 bodies and are facing charges including abuse of a corpse, money laundering, theft and forgery.

Samantha Naranjo, whose grandmother was identified inside the Penrose funeral home, said she wishes these regulations were in place years ago. She said she's happy with the advancement of the bill on Tuesday.

"It was obviously much needed and well past due," she said. "The situation has to be a statement to say that this is enough, like we can't keep hearing stories like this."

In February 2018, the FBI raided the Sunset Mesa Funeral Home in Montrose. A judge sentenced the owners to federal prison after they admitted to selling the body parts of hundreds of people.

The majority of the testimony heard on Tuesday was in support of the Senate bill. However, some people questioning the legislation said it could make it harder for funeral homes to hire people since there's only one mortuary science program in the state. It's offered at Arapahoe Community College near Denver.

Faith Haug, the program chair of Mortuary Science at the college, said she's in support of more licensing and the legislation wouldn't hurt the industry. She said 67 people are set to graduate from the college this year with an Associate's Degree in Mortuary Science. Haug also said there are 57 other mortuary science programs offered around the country.

The bill has been referred to the Senate Finance Committee for further discussion.

Proposed bill could change requirements to become a Funeral Director in Colorado