Rep. Bob Deelstra (R-9/Hartford) has filed HB 1066, his proposal to allow counties to cremate deceased indigents. Since my original post on Rep. Deelstra's proposal, I've not been able to think of any reason this bill is a bad idea. Plenty of Rep. Deelstra's colleagues in Pierre have come to a similar conclusion: he has a bipartisan mix of 30 co-sponsors in the House, just five shy of the votes he needs to get it through his chamber.

If passed, the bill may not have much effect in Lake County: funeral home director Robert Ellsworth says that Lake County has buried very few indigents during his 33 years in Madison. Ellsworth also notes that the rate Lake County pays for those rare burials hasn't increased in over thirty years.

Down the road, however, Minnehaha County is seeing dead people... and more of them! Minnehaha County Director of Human Services Carol Muller provides the following figures on her counties increasing indigent expenses:

year county funerals total cost cost per
2006 41 $73,107 $1,783.10
2007 53 $94,126 $1,775.96
2008 54 $53,732 $995.04
2009 77 $181,169 $2,352.84
2010 71 $178,413 $2,512.86
2011 85 $196,143* $2,335.04

The 2011 figure isn't complete; a few outstanding bills will likely raise the total above $200K. The average costs vary, since family members contribute varying amounts.

But given that cremation may cost $500 to $1000 less than burial, Deelstra's proposal could have saved Minnehaha County taxpayers something like five figures.

Note that Rep. Deelstra is not requiring counties to burn the poor; he's just giving them the option under statute, if there are no family or friends to express wishes to the contrary.

So I'm wondering: can anyone think of a reason not to pass this bill?

Update 2012.01.22 07:07 MST: According to Muller, in 2007, the average cost of cremation was $1,159, while the average cost of a traditional funeral with opening/closing was $2483. In 2010, these numbers were $1395 and $2563, respectively. When families are available to express their preference, more are choosing cremation, matching the general trend in funerals. Where the county has to make the call, allowing cremation as an option means saving almost $1200, or 45%. Muller also tells me that in 2011, 65% of those funerals were cremations.