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State House Unanimously Passes Timothy Piazza Anti-Hazing Bill

by on October 10, 2018 9:09 AM

Anti-hazing legislation introduced following the death of Penn State student and fraternity pledge Timothy Piazza is another step closer to becoming Pennsylvania law after gaining unanimous passage in the state House.

The Timothy J. Piazza Anti-Hazing Law passed through the House on Tuesday and will return to the Senate, where it passed unanimously in April, next week before heading to Gov. Tom Wolf.

“No family should ever have to experience the preventable loss of a child because of the reckless and despicable act of hazing,” state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, said in a statement. “I pray this law will serve as a strong deterrent for those who might attempt to haze and intimidate their peers, and also provide law enforcement with the tools they need to pursue justice for victims.”

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township, who worked with the Piazza family to develop the legislation and sponsored the bill, said he expects the Senate to take up the final version of the bill quickly next week and send it to the governor's desk.

“We are embarking on the final steps in a long journey for Tim’s family who have turned their personal tragedy in to a mission to save others,” Corman said. “It has been my honor to walk with them as we work toward comprehensively rewriting the state’s hazing laws in order to prevent death or serious injury due to hazing. I am grateful for the House’s support.”

Penn State leadership and interfraternity councils statewide have supported the legislation for tougher penalties and stronger policies and reporting procedures related to hazing.

Currently, hazing is classified as third-degree misdemeanor in Pennsylvania. Under the proposed law, hazing that results in bodily injury to a student remains a misdemeanor. However, hazing that results in serious bodily injury or death is classified as aggravated hazing, a third-degree felony.

The new law also would add summary offenses for hazing that does not result in injury.

New organizational and institutional hazing provisions also are included in the legislation.

The organizational hazing offense is for fraternities, sororities or clubs that knowingly or recklessly allow hazing or aggravated hazing. Penalties include fines or forfeiture of property.

Institutional hazing similarly would hold accountable colleges, universities and other institutions that knowingly or recklessly allow hazing or aggravated hazing to occur. They would be subject to fines ranging from $5,000 to $15,000 per offense, depending on whether the incident was hazing or aggravated hazing.

The legislation includes a safe harbor clause for student who call for emergency help for an individual who has been hazed. Similar to the state's drug overdose immunity law, the person who calls for help and waits with the victim for emergency personnel to arrive would be immune from prosecution for hazing and underage drinking.

Institutions also will be required to maintain a public report of hazing violations -- including when the organization was charged, a description of the incident, findings and sanctions. As with the current law, institutions also are required to have anti-hazing policies and sanctions.

“In making these changes, we are establishing a model for strengthening antihazing laws nationwide,” Corman said. “This law will provide prosecutors with the tools they need to fully prosecute those who engage in hazing-related activities. Students will have information they need to make informed choices about the groups they consider joining and safe harbor provisions so they can call for help for someone in distress without fear of prosecution.”

Geoff Rushton is managing editor for Contact him at [email protected] or find him on Twitter at @geoffrushton.
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