House committee OKs changes to Metro cemeteries bill
Reporting from Salem
A bill to change the way Oregon cemeteries declare empty graves to be abandoned is headed for a floor vote in the Oregon House of Representatives.
The Oregon House General Government and Consumer Protection Committee voted unanimously Friday to send the bill to the full house for a vote – after making some changes to the timelines in the bill.
Senate Bill 1537 would create a new way for cemetery owners to re-claim empty graves whose owners have not been heard from in decades. It was sponsored by Metro, which has hundreds of such graves – many of which were originally purchased in the 19th century – in its 14 pioneer cemeteries.
The bill originally called for graves whose owners have been silent for 50 years to be eligible for re-claiming, and gave owners 90 days to respond to notifications via postal mail, email and telephone.
On Friday, house members amended the bill to extend back 75 years, and give grave owners four months to respond. That would take the "silence period" back to 1937, before World War II.
"If some World War II vet went away and came back and lost his plot, well that'd be sort of unfortunate. So, that was part of the rationale behind 75 years," said Rep. Jefferson Smith, D-Portland. "With this, nearly every World War II vet ought to move through their circle of life."
Rep. Paul Holvey, D-Eugene, said an extension on response time seemed appropriate when considering who is most likely to be impacted by the bill.
"When people are maybe 95 they're a little bit slower so it seemed prudent to move it from 90 days to 120," said Holvey, the committee's co-chair.
Paul Slyman, the director of the Metro department that manages the pioneer cemeteries, said he didn't think many graves would be affected by the 25-year extension.
"We're pleased that the bill is moving forward in its amended form," Slyman said.
Metro lobbyist Randy Tucker said he expects the bill to go to the floor for a vote next week. The Senate, which approved the original version of the SB 1537 by a 28-0 vote, would then have to vote on the House's changes.
The committee hearing wasn't all business. Rep. Brian Clem, D-Salem, had some fun with the bill's nickname, the "Zombie Bill."
"Are zombies living or not?" asked Clem after Tucker's testimony.
"Like this bill," Tucker said, "they are undead… so far."