In 2015 the South Carolina General Assembly amended SC Code of Law 44-63-74 that requires that death certificates be filed within 5 days from the date of death to allow DHEC to assess administrative penalties for certificates that are filed after this deadline.
Funeral directors are required to gather the demographic information regarding the decedent within this time frame and to designate a medical certifier for the cause of death and other medical information. Medical certifiers have up to 48 hours after notification of the death to certify the cause of death (excluding weekends and state holidays). If a certificate is filed after the five-day deadline, DHEC evaluates the filing and determines whether a funeral director or medical certifier may be at fault and assesses a penalty for each day after the specified timeframe.
How Penalties Are Determined
Penalties are assessed for each day that the certificate is late — more than five days from the date of death — and are set in law as follows:
|$250 or warning letter
|Each day after third day
Implementing the Law; Updating Regulations
The law was effective Jan. 1, 2016. However, at this time, the DHEC system used for filing death certificates did not allow DHEC to determine fault for late filings of certificates. Because DHEC was in the process of replacing its outdated Electronic Death Registration system (SCVRSIIS), the agency decided to implement the law once a system was in place that could accurately determine fault for filing late.
In January 2021, DHEC released an updated version of SCVRSIIS with more robust tools capable of making this determination possible. After stabilizing the system, in April 2022, DHEC began the process of amending its Vital Statistics regulations including rules to implement the law. The regulation process outlined the following procedural steps:
- DHEC evaluates any certificate filed more than five days after the date of death to determine the person at fault for the delay.
- Once fault is determined, DHEC sends the person an email notice of intent to assess a penalty.
- The person at fault has 15 calendar days to submit evidence of good cause (i.e., demonstrating why the certificate was unable to be filed within the required timeframe.)
- DHEC reviews evidence submitted by the person at fault.
- If DHEC agrees with good cause, the fine may be removed or reduced.
- If DHEC does not agree with good cause, DHEC sends the person a certified letter of final assessment of penalties within 15 calendar days.
- If the person at fault pays the penalties within 30 days of the final assessment date, they will be eligible for a 50% reduction* of the total amount.
f the person at fault fails to pay the amount within 30 days, a notice will be sent that the entire amount is now due.
If the person at fault fails to pay the amount after 60 days, a notice will be sent that the person will be referred to the Government Enterprise Accounts Receivable (GEAR) program administered by the Department of Revenue.
f the person fails to pay the amount after 90 days, they will be referred to the GEAR program for collections and recoupment of penalties owed.
*In its regulations, DHEC included a 50% reduction of the total penalty if paid within 30 days of the final assessment date. This is an incentive for timely payment of penalties.
Timeline of Stakeholder Engagement
DHEC’s actions to include and engage stakeholders is outlined below.
- Feb. 1, 2022: Director of Vital Statistics Caleb Cox attended the South Carolina Funeral Directors Association conference and spoke about upcoming regulations updates, including establishing regulations to govern the assessment of administrative penalties.
- Apr. 22, 2022: Notice of Drafting of Vital Statistics Regulations was published in the State Register.
- Apr. 26, 2022: An email was sent to all funeral directors and morticians registered in SCVRSIIS notifying them of the notice of drafting and inviting them to a virtual stakeholder meeting held April 29, 2022, to gather stakeholder feedback to assist in drafting the regulations.
- Apr. 29, 2022: Virtual stakeholder meeting was held with at least 80 funeral directors and/or morticians. In addition, an email was sent to all medical professionals registered in SCVRSIIS notifying them of the notice of drafting and inviting them to a stakeholder meeting held May 3, 2022, to gather stakeholder feedback to assist in drafting the regulations.
- May 3, 2022: Stakeholder meeting was held with at least 50 medical professionals.
- May 19, 2022: An in-person stakeholder meeting was held at 2600 Bull Street, Columbia, SC 29201, for the public and all registered SCVRSIIS system users including funeral directors and physicians. Three stakeholders attended.
- Jul. 1, 2022: A law requiring electronic filing of all death certificates and removing the previous exemption for those that filed less than 12 certificates a year became effective.
- Aug. 11, 2022: Proposed regulations, including the outlined process for the assessment of administrative penalties, were proposed to and approved by the South Carolina Board of Health and Environmental Control (Board).
- Aug. 16, 2022: An email was sent to all funeral directors and medical certifiers informing them that the proposed regulations were approved by the Board and would be published Aug. 26, 2022, in the State Register. To ready stakeholders, DHEC informed them that it would begin sending notifications about certificates that would have been assessed as a penalty for educational purposes only. It was clearly communicated that no penalties would be assessed until the regulation update process was concluded. The first report of notifications showed over 1,200 records would have been assessed penalties had they been assessed at that time. The team notified the person who would have been at fault for any records filed more than 10 days after the date of death and what the penalty amount would have been. Again, this was done to help prepare stakeholders for the eventual assessment of penalties.
- Aug. 26, 2022: Notice of proposed regulations was posted in the State Register.
- Aug. 31, 2022: An email was sent to all registered SCVRSIIS users containing a link to the proposed regulations and instructions of how to submit public comments until Sept. 26, 2022.
- Aug. 2022 – Aug. 2023**: Notices of late filed certificates continued to be mailed to stakeholders that would have been assessed as a penalty, but no penalties were assessed.
- Sept. 26, 2022: Public comment period closed.
- Nov. 10, 2022: Final regulations were presented to and approved by the Board.
- Feb. 1, 2023: Director of Vital Statistics Caleb Cox attended the Funeral Directors Association conference and discussed planned implementation of the administrative penalties and the progress of the regulations getting approved.
- May 16, 2023: Director of Vital Statistics Caleb Cox attended the Mortician’s Association annual conference and discussed the planned implementation of the administrative penalties along with other system enhancements.
- May 26, 2023: New regulations were approved by the General Assembly and published in the State Register.
- Jun. 13, 2023: An email was sent to all SCVRSIIS funeral directors and medical certifiers notifying them of the passed regulations, that DHEC expected to start assessing penalties on certificates filed after July 31, 2023, and explaining the process in regulations.
- Jul. 28, 2023: An email was sent to all SCVRSIIS funeral directors and medical certifiers notifying them that the enforcement would be delayed one month and would start on all certificates filed after Sept. 1, 2023.
- Oct. 20, 2023: An email was sent to all SCVRSIIS funeral directors and medical certifiers notifying them that notices of intent to assess penalties would be emailed the following week and the process for submitting evidence of good cause was reiterated.
**As Vital Statistics continued to mail notices of late filed records the number of records filed passed the 5-day deadline steadily decreased. The first report of notifications showed more than 1,200 records that may have had assessed penalties. The last report before the implementation of the penalties in August 2023 showed less than 400 records in violation. This is more than a 65% reduction in the number of records that would have been assessed penalties from August 2022 to August 2023.