– The countdown is on. Sixty days from Thursday, a new provision introduced by state Rep. Mark Gillen (R-Berks/Lancaster) and signed into law Thursday by the governor will ensure the families of a 3-year-old boy, a war hero and others buried in a local cemetery will have access to their loved ones’ gravesites.
“Today is a reminder that our system of government can still work to fix a basic injustice,” Gillen said on Thursday. “I’m so pleased to be able to tell these local families their right to visit their loved ones’ final resting place is now cemented in state law. It is unfortunate, but in some unique situations a law is necessary to compensate for a lack of human decency, morality or considerate behavior.”
The new law ensures reasonable access to all cemetery visitors in Pennsylvania. It also requires cemetery owners to honor burial plots sold by previous owners.
The local controversy erupted when the new owners of Rock Cemetery on Twin Valley Road in Caernarvon Township several years ago began prohibiting family members from visiting the graves of their loved ones. The new owners posted “private property” and “no trespassing” signs before filing a lawsuit against the cemetery visitors. They also refused to honor the sale of burial plots by the previous owners.
Gillen heard about the situation and introduced legislation – House Bill 1019
– to help the families. Gillen’s bill was approved by the House in July and Senate in November before being presented to the governor to be signed into law.
The cemetery owners’ actions prevented Barbara Miller from visiting the grave of her 3-year-old son, Rickey, who passed away from brain cancer in 1980. That soon will change. She also bought the plot next to his grave from the previous owners of the cemetery with plans to spend eternity buried next to Rickey. Thanks to the new state law, those plans may become a reality.
The cemetery owners barred Hazel Hamm from visiting the grave of her husband, Doug, who passed away in 1995. Hazel couldn’t visit his final resting place, even though her name already is engraved on their shared tombstone. The new law will empower her to visit her husband and, when the time comes, be buried alongside him.
Perhaps most tragically, the owner’s decision prevented Nina Pruitt from visiting the grave of her husband, Van, who passed away in 2004. Van Pruitt served in World War II and the Korean War, earning two purple hearts and a bronze star. Nina passed away earlier this year and, because the cemetery owners chose not to honor the sale of the burial plot she bought next to her husband, she had to be buried approximately a mile and a half away at Elverson United Methodist Cemetery in Elverson.
“I hope this law will ensure no widow of a war hero in the future in Pennsylvania will be prevented from visiting her husband’s gravesite,” Gillen said.
Cemetery owners are able to establish reasonable access procedures as well as designate the frequency, hours and duration of cemetery visits.
If the cemetery owners fail to comply with the new law, persons denied access to a burial plot can file a lawsuit in the Court of Common Pleas where the property is located. The Office of Attorney General also may bring an enforcement action against the owner for violating Pennsylvania’s Unfair Trade Practices and Consumer Protection Law.
“This was a moral issue and we took action to correct something that was inherently wrong,” Gillen said.
All provisions of the new law will take effect in 60 days.
Representative Mark Gillen
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Media Contact: Dan Massing