Amy King worked in the Legislature for 27 years, mostly on the staffs of lawmakers, helping them draft and manage bills.
Despite that experience, however, King is frustrated by her failure – so far, anyway – to secure a minor, seemingly benign change in state law governing the handling of “human remains” in communities near California’s outer borders.
It illustrates the difficulty that ordinary citizens have in seeking legislation without the intervention of lobbyists, particularly when it touches on the turf of influential interests.
King, who retired from the Legislature in 2002 and lives in Tulelake, a tiny town near the Oregon border, resolved to get the law changed after her brother, Paul, died in 2012 a few miles from Tulelake in rural Modoc County.
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Paul King had made advance funeral arrangements with a funeral home in Klamath Falls, just a few miles away in Oregon, but Modoc County authorities insisted on having his body taken to a mortuary in Alturas, nearly 70 miles away.
It was released to the Klamath Falls mortuary only after extensive cross-border negotiations and extra transportation expenses.
The action apparently ignored a 2006-vintage law that allows transportation of remains out of California without a death certificate if the death occurs within 50 miles of the border and the nearest out-of-state funeral home is within 20 miles of the border.
However, Amy King believes the law is difficult to interpret and the 20-mile limit too restrictive. She wants to clarify procedures, move the limit to 50 miles and allow physicians licensed in other states to sign death certificates for their California patients.
To spare other survivors the angst and expense she experienced after her brother’s death, King says, “It needs to be known what the procedures are.”
She’s obtained expressions of support from local officials in her area, and the region’s assemblyman, Republican Brian Dahle, had her proposal drafted in bill form this month but did not introduce it.
“We couldn’t get everyone on the same page,” Dahle’s chief of staff, Josh Cook, says, citing the proposed bill’s potential impacts on county coroners (many of whom are sheriffs), funeral directors and physicians.
The California Medical Association, Cook says, is especially sensitive about any change in law that affects their members’ prescribed duties.
Dahle’s office advised King to work with the professional and trade associations representing those interests to write a bill that all would find acceptable. That’s what professional lobbyists are paid to do, of course, but it’s very difficult for one woman who lives more than 300 miles from Sacramento.
King says she has approached the interest groups but they won’t engage with her on the issue unless she can persuade Dahle or another legislator to introduce a specific bill, leaving her in a Catch-22 situation.
Call The Bee’s Dan Walters, (916) 321-1195. Back columns, sacbee.com/dan-walters. Follow him on Twitter @WaltersBee.