ATLANTA – The Georgia House unaninimously passed a bill Tuesday tightening oversight of crematories and expanding the definition of mistreatment of the dead.
The bill was in response to a Walker County crematory where more than 300 corpses sent for cremation were instead dumped in vaults and makeshift graves. The Tri-State Crematory was immune to state inspections because it wasn't open to the public and worked only with funeral homes, a loophole closed by Tuesday's bill.
The bill also makes it a felony to abandon a body intended for burial or cremation. Previously it was a crime to mutilate or desecrate a corpse, but not to simply discard one. The felony would be punishable by up to three years in prison for each abandoned corpse.
The measure now heads to the Senate.
Before the bill passed, several legislators who have visited the crematory in northwest Georgia spoke about the horrific scene.
"I never thought I would see something so completely monstrous," said Rep. Chuck Sims, D-Douglas.
Rep. Mike Snow, who represents Walker County and sponsored the bill, said he's visited the crematory four times since the discoveries were made Feb. 15.
"I have come away each time with a sick feeling in my heart," Snow said.
Midway through House debate on the matter, lawmakers heard that the Federal Emergency Management Agency denied Georgia's request for assistance. Budget writers in the Legislature fear the clean-up at Tri-State could last at least eight months and cost the state tens of millions.
"This is horrible news for the state of Georgia," Snow said.
Gov. Roy Barnes said the assistance was denied because the situation is not a natural disaster. According to a letter FEMA sent to Barnes Tuesday, the state may seek help from the Environmental Preotection Agency, the Department of Justice or the Department of Health and Human Services.
"We just hope to find other sources," Barnes said.