Star Tribune

Opinion

Minnesota's embalming rule is irrational

Why should a funeral home be required to build an embalming room it won't use?

Article by: KATELYNN MCBRIDE and JEFF ROWES

Updated: January 22, 2012 - 5:46 PM

Should the government require cabbies to drive six-wheeled taxis or make art galleries buy a Picasso just to prove how serious they are about serving the public?

No, because it is silly to force entrepreneurs to waste money on things they don't want, don't need, won't use and can't afford.

But Minnesota thinks otherwise.

Verlin Stoll is a 27-year-old entrepreneurial dynamo who owns Crescent Tide funeral home in St. Paul. He wants to expand his business, hire new employees and offer the very lowest prices in the Twin Cities to even more people, particularly disadvantaged communities.

But Minnesota refuses to let Stoll build a second funeral home unless he builds a $30,000 embalming room there that he will never use.

Minnesota's law is irrational.

Embalming is never required just because someone passes away. The process uses chemicals to preserve human remains for public display, and, though once popular, it is in sharp decline.

The number of cremations has doubled in the last 10 years, in part because cremation is much cheaper than traditional burial. And more and more Americans are choosing not to embalm for religious, philosophical and environmental reasons.

What's more, Minnesota doesn't require funeral homes to do their own embalming for those who desire it; it is perfectly legal to outsource that service.

Many multibranch funeral-home businesses centralize their embalming at one location, leading to absurd results under the law. Minnesota's largest funeral chain has 17 locations and 17 embalming rooms, but actually uses only one.

So why is Minnesota forcing Stoll to waste $30,000 on a useless embalming room as a condition of expanding his thriving business?

The government argues that requiring entrepreneurs to spend $30,000 proves that they operate legitimate businesses and won't defraud customers.

In effect, this amounts to an argument that the public benefits when entrepreneurs like Stoll are forced to throw away money building something they don't need and won't use because making someone do something useless proves how determined they are to be in business and serve the public.

But by this logic, every doctor's office should have an operating room, and every brake shop should have a racetrack.

The only reason this law is still on the books is so that the big, full-amenity funeral-home businesses can benefit by a law that drives up prices for consumers and drives up operating expenses for competitors such as Stoll.

Stoll's basic services fee is only $250, which is about 90 percent lower than the $2,500 that the average Twin Cities' funeral home charges. Stoll's business model is built on minimizing fixed costs, which is why he does not have a hearse or chapel.

This law -- to the advantage of his competitors -- stands in the way of his expanding his low-cost, high-quality approach.

The government shouldn't force Minnesotans to do useless things. That's why Stoll and the Institute for Justice are challenging the law in a lawsuit filed last week.

The Minnesota Constitution protects every Minnesotan's economic liberty, which means that it protects entrepreneurs from being burdened by legal requirements that are either useless or designed to suppress honest competition.

A victory here would not only free Stoll from an unconstitutional restraint on his economic liberty, but also would protect entrepreneurs across the state from pointless laws and bureaucracy.

Otherwise, what's next? Forcing shoe stores to build basketball courts or making fast-food joints hang crystal chandeliers?

____

Katelynn McBride and Jeff Rowes are attorneys for the Institute for Justice, which represents the plaintiffs in this case.

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