Panel lets dust gather on cremation rule

By: - January 10, 2020 7:17 pm

The Iowa Administrative Rules Review Committee met Jan. 10 to consider items that included a proposed rule on permits governing when the remains of cremated loved ones could be retrieved. Shown is debate on a different item. (Photo by Perry Beeman/Iowa Capital Dispatch}

Melissa Bird of the Iowa Department of Public Health walked into a state meeting Friday with a proposed rule that navigated the apparently touchy world of getting a permit to dig up or otherwise retrieve the cremated remains of a person.

She walked out with dust. If not ashes.

After the board chairwoman expressed frustration with the state’s lawyers and the Bureau of  Professional Licensure, members of the Administrative Rules Review Committee voted to put the proposed rule on session delay. That basically means they want to allow time for state lawmakers to weigh the issue before it comes back to the rules committee.

The rule would have changed a state law that appears to require a permit to disinter — dig up, remove — buried corpses or cremated remains. Bird told board members state lawyers questioned if the rule meshes with a state code section regulating these situations. The Iowa Funeral Directors Association agreed there was a conflict, a representative told the board. The rule as presented would have only applied to corpses, and not ashes.

Bird is chief of the Bureau of Health Statistics and acting chief of the Bureau of Professional Licensure.

The rule is “in response to a recent determination by the Bureau of Health Statistics, Vital Records, that cremation is a final disposition that occurs at the crematory prior to interment of cremated remains; therefore, no permit is required for disinterment of cremated remains,” the health department wrote in its official rule notice.

Iowa Rep. Megan Jones is a Sioux Rapids Republican.

That set off board chairwoman Rep. Megan Jones, a Republican from Sioux Rapids who noted the debate over the rules started in 2017 and various parties’ concerns weren’t reflected in the resubmitted draft rule. “So then these rules are just regurgitated in the final version and here we are and now you’re trying to say that this is all the Legislature’s fault?” Jones said. “What’s the difference between ashes of that person, and a pile of dust on the floor?” Jones asked at another point.

Michael Triplett, who lobbies for the Iowa Funeral Directors Association, told board member the association opposes the change. Members would prefer state lawmakers consider a change in the language of the Iowa Code section, which appears to date to before cremation was commonplace in Iowa.

“It is our belief that this is something that could probably be best fixed in the code,” Triplett said. “It was probably the original code that passed in the 1900s” before cremation was common, Triplett said. “Is there time for an update of this section to include cremated remains, and various things that have happened since the early 1900s?”

The rules committee decided there. Now, it’s up to lawmakers.


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