Wisconsin cemetery operators would be allowed to own funeral homes under a bill proposed at the Capitol. The bill’s author, Representative Evan Wynn, pitches a hypothetical dairy farmer looking to branch out to a related business. “You look into buying an ice cream shop, so you could sell ice cream. But as you were looking into it, you were told there’s a law that says you can’t own both a dairy farm and an ice cream shop. Sounds ridiculous, right? That’s the current law on the books for cemeteries and funeral homes.” That’s counter to competition, says Wynn, whose bill would allow “combinations” of cemeteries and funeral homes.
Scott Petersen is Executive Director of the Wisconsin Funeral Directors Association. “Competition is the word that’s being used as a Trojan horse, for something else, a different objective,” says Petersen. “That objective is consolidation.” Petersen says states which allowed combinations have seen a decrease in locally owned and operated funeral homes.
“The perspective that I haven’t heard a lot in any of the discussions about this is, we hear cemeteries aren’t allowed to own funeral homes right now. Well the other side of that is, funeral homes aren’t allowed to own cemeteries, and it’s been that way for many years,” says WFDA President Bob Patten. “As a small business, we’ve played by those rules.” Patten says changing the rules now would put his members at a disadvantage, since many cemeteries would be able to easily build funeral homes on their properties.
“We don’t want any businesses to fail, but the government shouldn’t be in the business of protecting businesses,” says Wynn. The bill received a hearing in the Assembly Committee on Consumer Protection – with funeral home operators wearing buttons urging lawmakers to “Bury AB 523.”