Texas Jewish families faced agonizing waits to bury loved ones. This law will change that.

HB 1011 allows for the issuance of expedited death certificates.

Headstone in a Jewish cemetery.(Jim Pintar / Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Headstone in a Jewish cemetery.(Jim Pintar / Getty Images/iStockphoto)

By Dallas Morning News Editorial

We’ve told plenty of stories about legislative dysfunction in Austin this year. Those are important to highlight, but so are instances of sensible and sober bipartisan lawmaking that helps everyday Texans in their most trying moments.

We’re proud of a particular instance that started in Dallas. Members of the Orthodox Jewish community in our city had experienced harrowing waits to get death certificates for loved ones whom they intended to bury abroad. Their religious tradition prohibits embalming the dead and requires a prompt burial — customs shared by Islam and other faiths. Some faithful choose other countries as their final resting place.

A common requirement to transport a body abroad is a death certificate, but in Texas, it can take several days, sometimes even a couple of weeks, for a family to get the document. A law authored by Democratic state Rep. John Turner of Dallas allows counties with a medical examiner to opt into a process that expedites the issuance of death certificates.

Under the law, a family can request an expedited death certificate by citing religious reasons and plans to lay the body to rest in another country. In that case, a certificate must be issued within 48 hours, unless there is an investigation regarding the death. On Tuesday, Dallas County commissioners adopted a resolution to participate in the expedited processing.

Turner worked on the legislation with Aaron Ceder, a staffer for J.J. Koch, the lone Republican in the Dallas County Commissioners Court. Ceder is a friend of Howard Goldfeder, a Dallas resident whose mother died the weekend before the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday in 2018. Goldfeder told state lawmakers during a committee meeting that his family flew the body to New York but could not proceed to Jerusalem without a Texas death certificate. He said state offices were closed on Tuesday because of bad weather.

Goldfeder told lawmakers that he later learned from Jewish burial societies around the country that the process of obtaining a death certificate in Texas was harder than in other states.

“I told myself that this should not happen again and that a family should not have to go through this agonizing wait,” Goldfeder said.

Charles Hirschberg of Dallas Chevra Kadisha, a Jewish burial society, said the process of getting a death certificate to transport bodies abroad or even to other states has caused Texas families “great angst.” He told lawmakers that he encounters this problem about 15 times a year.

Turner worked with the medical examiners in Dallas and Tarrant counties to craft the legislation. Dallas County anticipates no significant financial impact from making this accommodation.

This is the way government is supposed to work. Constituents identify a problem and bring it to the attention of their representatives, who work with other parties to find a solution and build consensus around it. This law may affect only a small number of people, but it should remind all Texans of the politics we should strive for.

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