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1/22/2003 Rep. Brien files bills to protect consumers who pre-arrange funerals
STATE HOUSE – Rep. Todd R. Brien of Woonsocket and has filed legislation to provide protection to those who pre-pay for funeral arrangements.

The pair of bills Representative Brien has filed is an effort to avoid situations like the one that occurred in Woonsocket a year and a half ago, when the Menoche Funeral Home went out of business. Funeral home owner Paul A. Menoche is currently serving four years for embezzling $437,971 from 118 families who paid for pre-arranged funerals.

“People pre-arrange funerals to provide themselves and the their families some peace of mind in knowing that when the time comes, everything will be taken care of properly. What happened with Menoche showed us that there needs to be a system in place to guarantee them that security,” said Representative Brien, a Democrat who represents District 50.

The first of the bills (2003 - H5117) establishes a funeral services trust account that would be funded by a $10 fee on every funeral, burial or disposition performed by funeral homes in Rhode Island. The account would be used to protect customers if a funeral home defaults on its prepaid contracts, also called “preneed” contracts. The account would be capped when it reaches $300,000, and the state would then stop collecting the fees unless it dipped back below that amount.

Though state law requires funeral homes to put money for any prepaid contract in an escrow account, investigators have been unable to locate any such accounts for Menoche, who was also found to be operating without an embalmer’s license for several months.

Representative Brien filed a similar bill last year, with a clause that made the coverage retroactive so it would serve the victims of Menoche. That clause, however, led to the defeat of the bill, so it has been removed from this year’s version. Menoche has been ordered to pay restitution to his victims and is participating in a work-release program to help do that. Funeral director Francis E. Cartier, who bought Menoche’s funeral parlor at auction, has also been honoring Menoche’s pre-paid arrangements for those who have died while the matter is being resolved.

“It’s important that we get this fund up and running before anyone else becomes a victim to this kind of fraud,” said Representative Brien.

Representative Brien introduced the bill yesterday, Jan. 21, and it was referred to the House Corporations Committee. The bill was cosponsored by Rep. David E. Laroche (D-Dist. 49) of Woonsocket, Majority Whip Rene R. Menard (D-Dist. 45) of Lincoln and Cumberland, Rep. Roger A. Picard (D-Dist. 51) of Woonsocket and Rep. Donald O. Reilly Jr. (D-Dist. 52) of Cumberland.

The other bill (2003 - H5152), which was introduced today and sent to the House Corporations Committee, would change the statute establishing the duties of the state funeral home inspector so they would include reviewing records of prepaid funeral arrangements. Rhode Island has not had a funeral home inspector since the last one retired five years ago. While pursuing the change in the law, Representative Brien intends to push to get the position filled.

“If someone had been doing this job, and had looked into Menoche’s books, his customers wouldn’t be in the situation that they’re in,” said Representative Brien.

The bill was cosponsored by Representative Laroche, Representative Menard, Representative Picard and Representative Robert B. Lowe (D-Dist. 48) of North Smithfield and Burrillville.

For more information, contact:
Meredyth R. Whitty, Publicist
State House Room 20
Providence, RI 02903
(401) 222-1923