Dave Bunce, superintendent of the Masonic Cemetery on the other side of town, prides himself on meticulous care of the grounds. He recycles flags from
Dave Bunce, superintendent of the Masonic Cemetery on the other side of town, prides himself on meticulous care of the grounds. He recycles flags from graves and tries to repair damage to headstones. Here, he examines the detailed work on an all-copper tombstone. Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

A bill making nonprofit cemetery boards more transparent and accountable to plot owners and their families received initial approval from the House Monday, despite concerns that the proposed law may cost the state money.

The measure requires non-profit cemetery boards appoint at least one person who owns some type of grave space. Additionally, plot-owners or designees could attend board meetings as well as review financial and meeting records. A last-minute amendment to the bill requires the Colorado Attorney General's office, which oversees non-profits, to hold a hearing 60 days after a complaint is lodged against a cemetery association.

Hidden in the hills behind the Catholic Cemetery in Trinidad are broken headstones that have been tossed in piles. There also are gopher holes in and
Hidden in the hills behind the Catholic Cemetery in Trinidad are broken headstones that have been tossed in piles. There also are gopher holes in and around the graves, trash along the fences and weeds all over the grounds. Questions are being raised about why those responsible are not taking better care of the property. Photos by Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post (Helen H. Richardson, The Denver Post)

State Rep. Wes McKinley, D-Cokedale, said people with loved ones in cemeteries that are falling apart have a right to demand answers — especially since a percentage of the money paid for the grave space is kept in a perpetual care fund.

"Death ends life but not relationships," said McKinley, the bill's sponsor, on the house floor. "Cemeteries are for the living."

Republican Rep. Bob Gardner of Colorado Springs said he appreciated the seriousness of the issue, but had concerns about the bill's unknown fiscal impact . He also said he did not believe the legislature had the right to tell the attorney general's office what to do.

Under the bill, if the attorney general's office finds probable cause that a cemetery non-profit has failed to fulfill its duties, the case goes to court to correct the problems. The court can require the non-profit to reimburse the attorney general's office for legal fees.

Mike Saccone, spokesman for Attorney General John Suthers, said lawyers are still reviewing the amendment. There are concerns, he said, because the bill's probable cause standard is more stringent than the "reason to believe" test the office usually applies. And the requirement of judicial involvement takes away other solutions state lawyers often use, such as out-of-court, binding settlements.

The House, which approved the bill by a voice vote, must OK it with a recorded vote before it moves to the Senate.

The Denver Post recently reported that the Trinidad Catholic Cemetery has dumped headstones and miniature American flags behind its facility, and its board has violated its own by-laws, filed inaccurate reports with the IRS and has members who appear to have conflicts of interest. Additionally, citizens in Pueblo have raised questions over an $800,000 loss in Roselawn Cemetery's perpetual care fund. The cemetery said the money was lost in the stock market.

Suthers' office is investigating both cemeteries.

Karen E. Crummy: 303-954-1594 or kcrummy@denverpost.com