Rotting bodies and fake ashes spur Colorado lawmakers to pass funeral home regulations

Funeral Home Improper Body Storage
David Zalubowski/AP
A hearse and van sit outside a closed funeral home where 115 bodies are being stored, Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, in Penrose, Colo. Authorities are investigating the improper storage of human remains at the southern Colorado funeral home that performs “green” burials without embalming chemicals or metal caskets.

By Jesse Bedayn AP/Report for America

Colorado lawmakers passed a bill Monday to overhaul the state’s lax funeral home oversight, joining a second measure aimed at regulating the industry that passed last week. Both follow a series of horrific incidents, including sold body partsfake ashes and the discovery of 190 decaying bodies.

The cases have devastated hundreds of already grieving families and shed a glaring spotlight on the state’s funeral home regulations, some of the weakest in the nation. The bill passed Monday will head to Gov. Jared Polis's desk after the House considers a minor change by the Senate.

The legislation would give regulators greater enforcement power over funeral homes and require the routine inspection of facilities including after one shutters. The second bill, which is already headed to the governors' desk, would require funeral directors and other industry roles to be licensed. Those qualifications would include background checks, degrees in mortuary science, passage of a national examination and work experience.

The legislation arrived after the 190 decomposing bodies were found at a funeral homes’ bug-infested facility about two hours south of Denver. Many families were left wondering whether the cremated remains they received were actually their child's or parent’s. Some have learned they weren’t.

Instead, some bodies were languishing in a building, some for four years. The owners have been arrested and face hundreds of charges, including abuse of a corpse.

At another Colorado funeral home in February, a body was discovered that had been left in the back of a hearse for over a year.

Funeral directors don’t have to graduate high school and regulators weren’t required to do routine inspections, as is the case in many other states. These bills would be a dramatic update, and the funeral home industry is generally on board.

“We as Colorado cannot be the laughing stock anymore as the only unlicensed funeral state,” said Joe Walsh, president of the Colorado Funeral Directors Association.

Walsh said that a majority of funeral directors wanted licensing requirements, and that while the new rules might be a hassle at times, they are a good step in bringing Colorado in line with the rest of the country.