It’s your funeral

Sacramento consumers soon will have even less choice than they now do when it comes to funeral-services providers. National funeral-home giant Service Corporation International (SCI) is seeking to merge with Alderwoods, another titan in the funeral-home industry. Alderwoods stockholders approved the merger late in May, and SCI estimates that a negotiated agreement with the Federal Trade Commission will allow the merger to proceed as early as this September.

SCI, the Wal-Mart of funeral services, already owns seven area funeral homes: Harry A. Nauman & Son and Sacramento Memorial Lawn in Sacramento, Reichert’s Funeral and Cremation Services in Citrus Heights, Mount Vernon Memorial Park & Mortuary in Fair Oaks, Lambert Funeral Home in Roseville, Chapel of the Hills in Auburn, and Marysville’s Sierra View Mortuary. Acquisition of Alderwoods will give SCI three more mortuaries in the region: Nicoletti, Culjis & Herberger in Sacramento, and two in Placerville (Chapel of the Pines and Memory Chapel).

The FTC previously has required SCI to divest itself of some funeral homes to avoid a monopoly in one area. Representatives of the FTC, contacted by SN&R, would not comment on whether SCI will be asked to sell any of its local funeral homes as a condition of the merger. SCI is a Texas-based company that was involved in the so-called “Funeralgate” scandal in Texas, in which a whistleblower alleged that then-Governor George W. Bush and other state politicians had intervened with the Texas Funeral Service Commission on behalf of SCI during an investigation of its practices.

—Kel Munger

Crack up

Four former state attorneys general who are now U.S. senators held a press conference last week announcing that they were introducing new legislation—the Drug Sentencing Reform Act of 2006—to address the long-criticized imbalance of prison sentences imposed on crack and powder-cocaine offenders. U.S. Senators Jeff Sessions, R-Alabama; Mark Pryor, D-Arkansas; John Cornyn, R-Texas; and Ken Salazar, D-Colorado, said the bill would reduce the crack-cocaine/powder-cocaine quantity sentencing spread from 100-to-1 to 20-to-1. In 1986, Congress decreed that the penalty for selling crack cocaine, mainly a black drug, would be far more severe than the penalty for selling powder cocaine, mainly a white drug. While sentencing a crack-cocaine defendant last year, Sacramento federal court Judge William B. Shubb lambasted the illogic of the disparity. “Nobody talks about this as if it makes sense. They just talk about it as if it’s just there, and Congress has done it, and so it must be right,” he said.

Families Against Mandatory Minimums (FAMM), a drug-law-reform group, pointed out that the proposed law is a start but also faulted the bill because it will close the crack-powder sentencing gap by essentially increasing powder-cocaine penalties and decreasing crack-cocaine penalties, instead of just decreasing crack penalties. “Nobody is complaining that the powder-cocaine penalty is too lenient,” said Mary Price, general counsel for FAMM.

—Stephen James

McClatchy rewards Pruitt

When you’re No. 2, you try harder—and, if you happen to be a top executive in Sacramento-based McClatchy Co., now the second-largest newspaper chain in the country after its $6.5 billion purchase of Knight Ridder, chances are you’ve been rewarded handsomely for the effort, reports the Associated Press.

In papers filed with federal regulators last week, McClatchy said Chairman and CEO Gary Pruitt received a bonus of $1 million following the completion of the Knight Ridder sale. Chief Financial Officer Patrick Talamantes received $250,000. Vice President of News Howard Weaver received $125,000. Vice Presidents Frank Whittaker and Robert Weil received $100,000 each.

In other McClatchy news last week, U.S. District Court Judge Susan Illston declined to issue a restraining order blocking McClatchy’s sale of the Monterey County Herald, the San Jose Mercury News and the Contra Costa Times to Denver-based MediaNews Group. The restraining order was requested by San Francisco real-estate tycoon Clint Reilly, who believes the sale of the three former Knight Ridder papers will grant MediaNews a monopoly in the Bay Area.

—R.V. Scheide