BEING OUR OWN HEROES

An easy step you can take toward better laws and better law enforcement, part one

For years now, Restlawn families have been hoping that someone will ride up on a white horse to save the day. This knight in shining armor would see the condition of Restlawn, reach into some (very deep) pockets to buy up the place and set things right.

Yes, well, as a strategy, this isn’t panning out, is it?

Even if some of us might still be waiting for that knight to ride into Beadle County, there’s nothing saying that we can’t stand up for our loved ones ourselves at the same time. And it looks more and more like being a Restlawn hero is tied to changing the cemetery laws in South Dakota. 

Legal stuff can be daunting, we know. And probably none of us had any intention of becoming an expert in South Dakota cemetery statutes.

But we don’t have to begin with anything complicated. Let’s start by asking in a nice, but firm way, that a relevant law already on the booksbe enforced. 

Here’s the law, as stated on the Codified Laws section of the South Dakota State Legislature site. 55-12-17.   Annual financial report. A perpetual cemetery, as defined in § 55-12-4, or a perpetual cemetery corporation operating under chapter 47-29 shall file an annual financial report for the preceding fiscal year with the secretary of state by July thirty-first of each year on a form prescribed by the secretary of state if the cemetery has one hundred or more people buried in the cemetery.

Source: SL 2013, ch 232, § 2; SL 2014, ch 228, § 5, eff. Mar. 28, 2014.

This law is pretty simple really. It just means that cemeteries like Restlawn need to file a one-page South Dakota Perpetual Care Cemetery Annual Financial Report with the Secretary of State. 

It’s easy to see the status of Restlawn’s latest report on the Secretary of State’s website. Here’s what it says:

Screen Shot 2018-06-24 at 9.24.21 PM.png

That “Delinquent” designation appears to indicate that there was no report filed for Restlawn for 2017. We don’t know why one wasn’t submitted as required by law, but, as the Argus Leader reported back in 2014, there appear to be no built-in enforcement for this law at all. And so, because it is toothless, very few cemeteries follow it, and, as a result, no one is watching the store.

So here is a case where we don’t need a whole new law. We just need to ask that the existing law be amended so it can be enforced. It would have the most impact if those of you who still live and vote in South Dakota would take action about this, but really, anyone can make an appeal to these legislators.

If you’re not sure who these folks are, here’s the Find my Legislators link:

http://sdlegislature.gov/legislators/who_are_my_legislators/Default.aspx?District=0&City=0&County=0&Session=2018

If you’re not sure what to say in an email or phone call, feel free to tinker with this template:

 

Dear Senator [surname]:        

                   OR        

 Dear Mr. / Ms. [surname of representative]:

I am writing to request that you and your colleagues sponsor legislation to provide enforcement for SL 55-12-17, the statute requiring perpetual care cemeteries to file the South Dakota Perpetual Care Cemetery Annual Financial Report. Since there seem to be no means to enforce this law, few South Dakota cemeteries adhere to this requirement. 

One of those cemeteries with a delinquent status is Restlawn Memory Gardens in Beadle County. This cemetery, as you may know from the news, is in shameful condition.One step toward making sure that the company is held accountable—and that no other South Dakota cemeteries are allowed to neglect their financial obligations—would be to tighten up the requirements for this annual report.

I hope you will agree that South Dakota families deserve the same legal protections that honor loved ones as do people in other states. This issue means a great deal to Restlawn families; I am grateful for your help. 

Best,

[your name]

 

P.S. For more about the conditions at Restlawn, please see this KELO story: 

http://www.keloland.com/news/article/investigates/families-upset-by-cemetery-s-condition

For more about the lack of enforcement of the South Dakota Perpetual Care Cemetery Annual Financial Report requirement:

https://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2014/09/27/sd-cemeteries-solemn-spacious-secretive/16371863/

The wording of this template is quite formal. If you know any of these legislators personally, you could take a more casual approach, of course.

            But don’t worry about getting the perfect wording. Just make your opinion known! People have contacted us from all corners of South Dakota (and beyond). If everyone who reads this website or the Restlawn Alliance Facebook page would send an email or place a phone call, this would matter.

            Once again, we are thinking of the very elderly folks who have contacted us, worried about the conditions at Restlawn and concerned that their wishes will not be honored. Who will speak up for them—and for those who are already laid to rest there? 

            I think that would be all of us.