Thursday, August 19, 2010

Louisiana's Casket Cartel

As Alice observed after she plummeted down the rabbit hole, it just gets curiouser and curiouser.  Living in Louisiana, that is.

A huge new controversy has burst onto the scene here, just across Lake Pontchartrain from New Orleans.  Bigger than huge.  Enormous!  Earthshaking!  With wide-ranging implications!

The Benedictine monks have sued the state. 

It seems that Louisiana has a state Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors that regulates the funeral industry.  The Board is made up of embalmers and funeral directors and one "citizen" who must be over the age of 60.  (Yes, that's sixty.  I have no idea why someone eligible to join AARP is more qualified to sit on a state Board than someone who is simply eligible to vote, so don't even ask.  Closer to the subject matter, I suppose.  Sorry.)  This Board makes and enforces regulations governing how businesses deal with the recently deceased and their families, including a provision that requires a mere vendor of caskets to have a license.  A funeral director's license. 

So.  As reported in The Advocate, if you want to sell caskets you must take 30 semester hours of college, serve a one-year apprenticeship, and preside over a minimum of 23 funerals to get a license.  And that's just to get the funeral director's license.  To acquire a funeral home license, you must provide the services of a licensed embalmer.  (I don't even want to know the prerequisites to obtaining an embalmer's license, but I am grateful that there are people willing to go through it.)

After Katrina, the 121 year-old St. Joseph Abbey found itself in financial straits because their time-honored source of income -- farming and harvesting wood -- was severely damaged by the storm's wrath.  In order to subsist, for the past few years they have been building and selling modest wooden caskets lined with simple white cloth at affordable prices.  To do so, they converted part of the Abbey into a woodworking shop.

And they apparently trod all over the toes of the funeral director's lobby in the process.

The monks were ordered to cease and desist the unlicensed selling of caskets or face stiff fines and/or imprisonment.  They were denied exemptions from the heavy-handed law, and told that if they wished to continue their entrepreneurial endeavors, they must obtain not only a funeral director's license, but also a funeral home license because they store empty caskets in the workshop.  Seriously.

They don't plan to embalm anyone, so they took the logical step and sued the Board to have this ridiculous profit-protection scheme dissolved.

Now, I'll admit that Louisiana has some pretty out-there licensing requirements, such as in the florist industry and the interior design industry.  Like columnist Jarvis DeBerry, I'm not at all certain what horrors could be inflicted by incompetent floral or interior designers, but that's a battle for those industries to wage. 

This casket-selling thing, on the other hand -- what am, I missing?  Even if the monks mess up and sell a sub-standard casket, who's gonna be injured?  Who's gonna complain?  A dead guy?  He doesn't care if the casket gets a little prematurely leaky!

While I'm not usually a fan of litigation (kind of a weird characteristic for a lawyer!), I gotta say that I'm fully in the monks' corner.  I can't wait for this one to play out in the press.  Where's the popcorn?


  1. Dayummm, gal - and I thought there were some strange goin's on in NC and VA. Y'all just may have the market cornered on strange laws.

    Movie theater butter OK with you? (grin)

  2. I gotta say that I'm fully in the monks' corner.

    And I gotta say you're likely not alone, by any means. You need to keep us posted (heh) on this one, Moogie. It's just too bizarre for words.

  3. I'll keep you "posted," Buck. Hope it doesn't take as long to resolve as the leaking water meter (still leaking).

    Movie theater butter will do just fine and dandy, Scott! It is a bizarro kind of place.

  4. This has been a debate for my entire adult lifetime. I'm glad the Monks are finally pursuing this. It has been a true racket forever.

    And, the florist licensing is just another example of how hard it is to do business here. Not to mention the egg inspectors, and about a million other make-work State employees with nothing to do but make life miserable for the honest working guy...

    Don't get me started.

  5. Ooh, please get started, Andy! I don't know about the egg inspectors!