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Bill on cemetery sizes upsets funeral groups

Representatives of church-owned cemeteries want a meeting with Gov. Jeb Bush.

By ALISA ULFERTS

© St. Petersburg Times, published May 24, 2001


Representatives of church-owned cemeteries want a meeting with Gov. Jeb Bush.

TALLAHASSEE -- A bill that would double the minimum size of cemeteries could drive up funeral costs in minority neighborhoods and should be vetoed, funeral groups said Wednesday.

Representatives of religious-based cemeteries have requested a meeting with Gov. Jeb Bush to discuss the bill, which they said gives an unfair advantage to larger, corporate-owned cemeteries.

A Bush spokeswoman said the governor will listen to the groups' concerns but that any meetings will depend on Bush's schedule.

Many of the religious-based cemeteries that would be affected by the bill are in minority neighborhoods, said Marc Little, whose Jacksonville public relations firm is representing the smaller cemetery organizations.

Little said two state funeral organizations, the Florida Funeral Directors Association and the Florida Morticians Association, surveyed cemeteries in Florida and found that the difference between burial costs in a corporate-owned cemetery and a church-owned cemetery already is roughly $1,700 in South Florida.

"Florida has hundreds of church-owned cemeteries in minority neighborhoods. Many are close to capacity but cannot afford to expand to 30 acres," Little wrote Wednesday.

Lawmakers raised the minimum acreage for cemeteries from 15 to 30 in a bill that passed last month. That bill, sponsored by state Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Palm Harbor, also removed a requirement that new cemetery owners show a specific need for their plots.

State Sen. Buddy Dyer, D-Orlando, who was named Legislator of the Year by the Independent Funeral Directors in 1996 and 1997, said he tried but failed to restore the 15-acre minimum when senators considered the bill.

But Latvala said the cemetery space requirements of the bill were recommended by the state comptroller's office. He said he doesn't think the bill will harm smaller, religious cemeteries and said opposition to the bill is profit-driven.

"I think it's done by some people in the business who don't want competition, and they're getting the churches all mixed up and confused," Latvala said.

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