BILL ANALYSIS Ó SENATE GOVERNANCE & FINANCE COMMITTEE Senator Lois Wolk, Chair BILL NO: SB 159 HEARING: 3/13/13 AUTHOR: Fuller FISCAL: No VERSION: 2/1/13 TAX LEVY: No CONSULTANT: Austin KERN RIVER VALLEY CEMETERY DISTRICT Allows the Kern River Valley Cemetery District to inter nonresidents under specified conditions. Background and Existing Law California's 253 public cemetery districts are separate local governments that operate cemeteries and provide interment services, mostly in rural areas and suburbs that were formerly rural communities. County boards of supervisors appoint the cemetery district's board of trustees, composed of three to five registered voters from within the districts' boundaries. Cemetery districts finance their operations with small shares of local property tax revenues, by selling interment rights, and by charging for services. State law limits who may be buried in a district cemetery. Generally, cemetery districts can bury only residents, former residents, property taxpayers, former taxpayers, certain eligible nonresidents, and their family members. Responding to an Attorney General's opinion, the Legislature allowed the Oroville Cemetery District (Butte County) to inter up to 100 nonresidents in a former Jewish cemetery which the District had acquired (SB 1906, Johnson, 1982). When it revised the Public Cemetery District Law, the Legislature retained Oroville's special provision (SB 341, Senate Local Government Committee, 2003). The Legislature allowed the Elsinore Valley Cemetery District (Riverside County) to inter up to 536 nonresidents in a former Jewish cemetery, under specified conditions (AB 1969, Jeffries, 2010). In 2011, to facilitate a group purchase of cemetery plots by members of the Congregation Bet Haverim Synagogue, the Legislature allowed the Davis Cemetery District to inter up to 500 nonresidents under SB 159 -- 2/1/13 -- Page 2 specified conditions (AB 966, Yamada, 2011). Last year, to help the Anderson, Cottonwood, and Silveyville cemetery districts overcome the ongoing loss of business to nearby veteran's cemeteries, the Legislature allowed them an exemption from the state law restricting non-resident burials (SB 1131, La Malfa, 2012). The Kern Valley Cemetery District (Kern County) was established in 1950 to provide cemetery services to residents within its boundaries. In July 2009, the Federal Veterans Administration opened the Bakersfield National Cemetery some 40 miles from the District's cemetery that will accommodate burials for roughly 200,000 veterans and their families. During the most recent fiscal year, the Bakersfield National Cemetery performed 642 burials, up from the 588 burials performed in the prior year and the 221 burials performed in the cemetery's first year. After the veterans' cemetery opened, annual interments in the Districts' cemeteries decreased, creating significant fiscal challenges. To help the Kern River Valley Cemetery District overcome the ongoing loss of business to the nearby veteran's cemetery, a district official wants the Legislature to grant the Kern River Valley cemetery an exemption from the state law restricting non-resident burials. Proposed Law Senate Bill 159 allows the Kern River Valley Cemetery District to inter in the ground or a columbarium -- a vault with niches for urns containing ashes of the dead -- up to 40 people per calendar year who are neither residents nor property taxpayers in any cemetery district and who do not otherwise qualify for interment under the state law governing public cemetery districts' interment of eligible nonresidents, if: The board of trustees determines that the District's cemetery has adequate space for the foreseeable future; The District has an endowment care fund that requires a contribution for every interment of at least a minimum payment as prescribed by law; and SB 159 -- 2/1/13 -- Page 3 The District requires the payment of a non-resident fee, as set by law. State Revenue Impact No estimate. Comments 1. Purpose of the bill . Responding to a special request nearly 30 years ago, the Legislature allowed the Oroville Cemetery District to bury nonresidents, if three conditions existed. Subject to the same conditions, the Legislature approved similar exceptions for the Elsinore Valley, Davis, Anderson, Cottonwood, and Silveyville Cemetery Districts. To help the Kern River Valley Cemetery District overcome fiscal challenges caused by its proximity to a new veteran cemetery, SB 159 grants the District a similar exception. 2. Precedent and limits . The Kern River Valley Cemetery District is not the only public cemetery district that faces challenges because of its proximity to recently opened veterans cemeteries. The federal government also recently established the Northern California Veteran's Cemetery (Shasta County) and Miramar National Cemetery (San Diego County). SB 159 builds on the precedent set by SB 1131 last year. Changing state law to help the Kern River Valley cemetery district will likely invite similar proposals from other cemetery districts that are located near veterans' cemeteries. SB 159 may lay the groundwork for incrementally exempting many more public cemetery districts from the statutory restrictions on nonresident interment. To limit the number of districts that may seek an exemption, the Committee may wish to consider amending SB 159 to apply the exemption, only to all districts within 50 miles of the exterior boundaries of a veteran's cemetery. 3. Rethinking nonresident interment . Many public cemetery districts are struggling financially. The loss of business to veterans' cemeteries is only one of many factors that contribute to these districts' fiscal plight. Districts have lost property tax revenues both because of decreases SB 159 -- 2/1/13 -- Page 4 in the assessed value of real property and the Educational Revenue Augmentation Fund (ERAF) shifts, which reallocated some districts' property taxes to benefit schools. Cemetery districts' revenues also have been reduced by a shift in funeral practices. Cremation, which is less expensive than burial, is becoming more common. In light of the numerous fiscal challenges facing public cemeteries, revenues from nonresident burials could offer significant financial benefits to districts that are struggling to continue providing cemetery services. As an alternative to exempting cemetery districts one at a time, or exempting only those located near veterans cemeteries, legislators may wish to reconsider the statutory prohibition against public cemeteries' interring nonresidents. Support and Opposition (3/7/13) Support : Kern River Valley Cemetery District Opposition : Cemetery and Mortuary Association of California.