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Abstract

In response to requests from health care facilities, law enforcement agencies, and funeral service establishments, Senator Kenny Alexander (DNorfolk) convened a workgroup of stakeholders to rewrite the statutes dealing with unclaimed remains and next of kin. In addition to serving the General Assembly, Senator Alexander owns several prominent funeral service establishments and is a funeral service licensee. His experience proved invaluable to the process. The stakeholder meetings began in the fall of 2013 and culminated in the introduction of Senate Bill 304 in the 2014 Session of the Virginia General Assembly. The bill passed without a single negative vote through both the Senate and the House of Delegates of Virginia. Because the legislation contained an emergency clause, it became law on March 7, 2014 once Governor McAuliffe signed it. Ultimately, the legislation provided much-needed details regarding appropriate procedures and deadlines for handling unclaimed remains to healthcare facilities and funeral service establishments. The legislation will improve health care facilities' and funeral home establishments' ability to coordinate with law enforcement when handling unclaimed remains. The legislation has three primary foundations. First, the legislation created a new Code section providing for a more detailed process for the identification of the decedent and for next of kin assuming responsibility for the unclaimed remains. Second, the legislation created a new Code section that clearly indicated that local jurisdictions would be responsible for the payment of expenses for disposition of the decedent when the next of kin is unable to pay or refuses to accept responsibility. Third, the legislation expands who may identify remains for purposes of cremation when there is no next of kin willing or able to serve. From a structural perspective, the legislation relocated certain Code sections and deleted several unnecessary ones.