Change Needed

State should look at oversight panels

In July 2016, Putnam County funeral home owner Chad Harding was ordered by a federal judge to pay an insurance company nearly $3 million. Harding had been accused of cashing in pre-need funeral contracts for 111 people who were still alive.

Last summer, about a year after that judgment, the West Virginia Board of Funeral Examiners voted to suspend Harding’s license — temporarily.

In September, the state Performance Evaluation and Research Division concluded the board “acted to protect the interest of one of its licensees more than the safety of the public.” The division had been asked by state legislators to look into the board’s actions.

Since then, Harding has pleaded guilty in state court to three counts of making fraudulent claims. He is to be sentenced next week.

After a lengthy round of condemnations of the board’s oversight of funeral homes, the division recommended the panel be eliminated. On the agenda of state legislators during their 60-day regular session will be a bill that would do just that.

A new system of holding funeral homes accountable would be established by West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner’s office, under the bill. His office would set licensing requirements, require continuing education and, perhaps most important, handle complaints about funeral homes.

There probably will be some discussion about specifics of the bill. For example, the secretary of state’s office has people with all sorts of expertise. Handling funerals is not among them. Some involvement by professionals in the business will be required.

Clearly, however, the old system of allowing funeral directors to, in effect, police themselves did not work.

Legislators should take their cue from that and take a look at other professional licensing and oversight panels. Is the same thing that happened with the funeral board occurring with other businesses?

Lawmakers should go along with the proposal to eliminate the Board of Funeral Examiners. Burying it is a good first step in the process of rethinking professional accountability.