(Springfield, IL) – April 15, 2011. Despite a rhetorical assault by Cook County Sheriff Tom Dart, the Illinois Senate yesterday overwhelmingly approved, 54-2, legislation to rein in the legislative overreach of Illinois cemetery reforms that were rushed through the legislature in the wake of the Burr Oak Cemetery scandal in 2009, reforms whose regulatory requirements overwhelmed tiny, volunteer-driven, non-profit cemeteries.
The legislation, Senate Bill 1853, sponsored by State Senator Emil Jones III (D-Chicago), reduces the regulatory burden on smaller not-for-profit cemeteries, which are usually family burial grounds or owned by churches.
The original reforms charged smaller cemeteries exorbitant fees, fines, and penalties that forced some to close gates.
“Cemeteries are financially modest enterprises with permanent maintenance and record-keeping obligations,” Jones said. “By exempting smaller cemeteries from some of the stronger requirements imposed by the C[emeter] O[versight]A[ct], smaller cemeteries can continue to operate.”
Additionally, the Jones bill provides law enforcement officials with a procedure for dealing with situations like the one that occurred at Burr Oak Cemetery in 2009, when at least 300 bodies were illegally dug up and discarded in a pile so that their grave sites could be resold. Thousands of other bodies buried at the cemetery, including infants, have not been accounted for by their survivors.
“The legislation does not affect or diminish any criminal statute,” Jones said. “Cemeteries will continue to be subject to oversight regulations, honor consumer contracts, bury people in the proper places, and maintain records so family members can easily find their loved ones and appropriately maintain cemetery grounds.”
“Burr Oak Cemetery is not exempted from this legislation,” Jones said.
Despite Jones’ assertion that the core cemetery reforms remain in place to prevent a recurrence of a Burr Oak-like scandal, Dart lashed out the bill this week.
“This literally takes all of the requirements, all of the new rules, and everything that was meant to bring some degree of comfort to frankly, the entire state … and throws it out the window,” Dart said.
Jones dismissed Dart’s claim and chided the tone of the sheriff’s criticism.
“No good can come from sensationalizing this topic,” Jones said. “My … legislation is intended to protect consumers while avoiding unnecessary cemetery abandonments and diminished cemetery maintenance.”
At the time of the original reform bill, Jones had fought for regulatory relief for the small, volunteer cemeteries, but the pressure of Democratic gubernatorial primary politics shunted aside those very measures, which the Senate approved yesterday, in order to provide “reform” grist for campaign TV ads and direct mail.
Jones assembled a broad, bi-partisan coalition of senate colleagues from all regions of Illinois. In addition to Jones, sponsors included Senators:
Don Harmon (D), Pamela Althoff (R), Maggie Crotty (D), William Haine (D), Darin LaHood (R), Edward Maloney (D), Iris Martinez (D), Gary Forby (D), Michael Frerichs (D), Mike Jacobs (D), Annazette Collins (D), Mattie Hunter (D), Kimberly Lightford (D), Michael Noland (D), William Delgado (D), Toi Hutchinson (D), Ira Silverstein (D), John Sullivan (D), Heather Steans (D), Martin Sandoval (D), John Mulroe (D), James Meeks (D), Dan Kotowski (D), Terry Link (D), Suzi Schmidt (D), John Millner (R), Sam McCann (R), Christine Johnson (R), Bill Brady (R), Larry Bomke (R), James Clayborne, Jr. (D), Kirk Dillard (D), Susan Garrett (D), David Luechtefeld (R), Steven Landek (D), Sue Rezin (R), Antonio Muñoz (D), and Ronald Sandack (R).
The measure now moves to the Illinois House for consideration.