A bill making it easier for someone to become a licensed funeral director has cleared the Senate.

“We have erected too many barriers for people who want to work,” Sen. Andy Wells, R-Catawba, said. “Civilization has been here for 10,000 years. For 9,900 of those years we managed to bury people without a North Carolina funeral director license.” 

The Senate voted, 39-5, on Tuesday, July 23, to pass the measure.

What was once a technical bill became controversial when lawmakers added a provision allowing for a provisional funeral director’s license. 

House Bill 554, or the Funeral Practice Licensure Technical Corrections bill, unanimously passed the House on April 25, but has changed since. The original bill makes technical and clarifying changes to funeral service license exam requirements, outlines rules for disposing of pacemakers, and requires crematory licenses to comply with federal regulations, among other things. 

But, as the bill made its way through the Senate, some lawmakers added an amendment allowing for the provisional license, which has been controversial.

People applying for a provisional license must meet the following requirements: 

  • Pay a $500 fee for the provisional license 
  • Have an undergraduate degree in any field, an associate of applied science degree in any field, or a diploma in funeral directing from a board-approved curriculum at an accredited college of mortuary science
  • Be of good moral character and at least 18 years old
  • Have a certified resident traineeship, or be eligible for certification as a resident trainee, or have at least five years of professional experience under the supervision of a licensed funeral director

A provisional license can’t be renewed more than twice, so if provisional licensee wanted to continue in the industry they would have to apply for a funeral director’s license. To obtain that license, a provisional licensee would have to obtain a passing score on certain exams within three years of getting a provisional license. 

While supporters of the bill have argued it’s necessary to help out-of-state licensees work legally in North Carolina, industry groups, such as the N.C. Funeral Directors Association and the N.C. Board of Funeral Services, oppose the measure. The groups say it lowers the standards for funeral directing and could potentially harm consumers. 

Some critics of the measure even argued it was included to benefit one lawmaker, Rep. Howard Hunter, D-Hertford. Hunter is one of the only funeral-home owners in the legislature without a funeral director’s license. Sponsors of the bill have denied the amendment was added to specifically benefit a lawmaker. 

During the Senate session July 23, Wells introduced an amendment to H.B. 554 to alleviate concerns from industry insiders. Wells’ amendment requires provisional licensees to have the same supervision as a resident trainee. The amendment also prohibits a provisional licensee from acting as a funeral director, which means they can’t serve as a location manager or sell pre-need contracts. 

“This is just offering a cleaner path for people who want to move into the state and practice their profession,” Wells said. “We are just trying to make it easier for people to work.”

Sen. Don Davis, D-Greene, was the only senator to raise concerns over the provisional license during the Senate session. While Davis praised the supervision amendment, he said more conversation is needed, or a study about the provisional license should be done

“Maybe we could just slow it down a little bit and make sure we bring everyone to the table to try and make sure we get it more right than wrong,” Davis said. 

H.B. 554 goes to the House for a concurrence vote.