Rotting bodies and artificial ashes are prompting Colorado lawmakers to pass regulations on funeral homes

DENVER – Colorado lawmakers passed a bill Monday aimed at overhauling the state’s lax oversight of funeral homes, joining a second measure to regulate the industry that passed last week. Both recount a series of horrific events, including sold body parts, fake ashes, and the discovery of 190 decomposing bodies.

The cases devastated hundreds of already grieving families and shone a bright light on the state’s funeral home regulations, some of the weakest in the country. The bill passed Monday will head to Gov. Jared Polis’ desk after the House considers a minor change introduced by the Senate.

The legislation would give regulators more enforcement power over funeral homes and require routine inspections of facilities, including shutters. A second bill already on the governors’ desk would require funeral directors and others in the industry to be licensed. These qualifications would include a background check, degrees in mortuary science, passing a state examination, and work experience.

The law went into effect after 190 decomposing bodies were found at an insect-infested funeral home about two hours south of Denver. Many families wondered whether the cremated remains they received actually belonged to their child or parent. Some have learned that this is not the case.

Instead, some bodies languished in the building, others for four years. The owners were arrested and faced with hundreds of charges, including abuse of corpses.

In February, a body was discovered at another funeral home in Colorado and remained in the back of a hearse for more than a year.

Funeral directors are not required to graduate from high school, and regulators are not required to conduct routine inspections as they do in many other states. These bills would be a radical change, and the funeral home industry is generally supportive of the situation.

Authorities emerge outside a closed funeral home where multiple bodies were kept on Friday, Oct. 6, 2023, in Penrose, Colorado. Colorado lawmakers passed a sweeping bill on Monday, May 6, 2024, aimed at fixing the state’s lax oversight that failed to catch a series of horrific incidents involving funeral homes. The cases devastated hundreds of already grieving families and spurred lawmakers to pass the bill, which now heads to Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ desk for his signature. Source: AP/David Zalubowski

“We in Colorado can no longer be a laughing stock as the only unlicensed funeral state,” said Joe Walsh, president of the Colorado Funeral Directors Association.

Walsh said most funeral directors want licensing requirements, and while the new rules can be cumbersome at times, they are a good step toward bringing Colorado in line with the rest of the country.