JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A bill dubbed the "Jedi Disposal Act" could soon make Missouri the first state to allow outdoor cremations.
The bill would allow licensed funeral directors to organize outdoor cremations at licensed crematoriums or private sites that have permits, the Kansas City Star reported. The bill got its name from the "Star Wars" movie franchise, in which two Jedi Knights are cremated in public ceremonies.
The bill passed with nearly unanimous consent in this year's legislative session and is awaiting Gov. Mike Parson's decision on whether to sign it.
Sen. Jason Holsman, a Kansas City Democrat, said he proposed the measure in part because outdoor cremations have been performed "since the dawn of man."
"This is the way that our ancestors took care of their remains," Holsman said Thursday. "The Native Americans did it in trees. The Vikings did it in boats. Outdoor cremation has been around many cultures forever."
The only place in the country where public outdoor cremations are legal is the small Colorado town of Crestone, about 160 miles southwest of Denver. The Crestone End of Life Project (CEOLP), a not-for-profit organization, receives state permits to organize ceremonies for people who live or own land in surrounding Saguache County.
CEOLP said it has organized about 65 outdoor cremations during the last 12 years. Some ceremonies attract as many as 300 people in a town with a population of only 143, said Stephanie Gaines, founding director of CEOLP.
"It's part of the fabric of our community," Gaines said. "The cremation is the frosting on the cake. For us, it's about community support in a transitional time from end of life, terminal end of life, through supporting the family and the individual after death."
Holsman, 43, said his interest in the subject began in part because of his northern Germanic and Viking ancestry. He said he would prefer to be cremated in the open air, "just like the Native Americans."
Funeral directors initially resisted the proposal out of fear people would host impromptu bonfires of deceased loved ones in their backyards, said Don Otto, executive director of the Missouri Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association. They dropped their opposition when health and safety requirements were added to the bill.
Otto said he expects the state board to enact more detailed rules for how licenses will be granted.