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Anti-hazing law in Penn St. student’s name goes to governor

Mark Scolforo
Associated Press
FILE – In this May 5, 2017, file photo, Centre County, Pa., District Attorney Stacy Parks Miller, left, announces findings in an investigation into the death of Penn State University fraternity pledge Tim Piazza, seen in photo at right, as his parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, second and third from left, stand nearby during a news conference in Bellefonte, Pa. A group of parents, including Jim Piazza, whose children were killed during fraternity hazing incidents are joining forces with national fraternity leaders themselves in an effort to band the generations-old initiations involving binge drinking and beatings that sometimes turn deadly. (Abby Drey /Centre Daily Times via AP, File)

HARRISBURG – Stricter criminal penalties for hazing will soon become Pennsylvania law under legislation inspired by the death of a Penn State student that cleared its final hurdle Monday.

The Senate voted unanimously for a bill named for a fraternity pledge who consumed a dangerous amount of alcohol and suffered a series of lethal falls at a party nearly two years ago.

Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf said he planned to sign the bill.

“Hazing is counter to the experience we want for college students in Pennsylvania,” Wolf said. “We must give law enforcement the tools to hold people accountable and ensure schools have safeguards to protect students and curb hazing.”

The legislation makes the most severe forms of hazing a felony, requires schools to maintain policies to combat hazing and allows confiscation of frat houses where hazing has occurred.

The law will be named for Tim Piazza, 19, a sophomore engineering student from Lebanon, New Jersey, who died in February 2017 after a night of drinking and hazing after a bid acceptance ceremony at the now-closed Beta Theta Pi house.

The legislation’s prime sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, a Republican who represents State College, said the dismissals of charges against former Beta Theta Pi members showed how existing law can be a challenge for prosecutors to apply effectively.

“It’s been very difficult for the prosecutors, on the current statute, to match up the appropriate charge with the crime,” Corman said.

Piazza’s parents, Jim and Evelyn Piazza, have become national anti-hazing advocates.

Their lawyer, Tom Kline, said the law will be “a national model for anti-hazing legislation. In particular, today was a significant step forward in deterring and eradicating the scourge of hazing on university campuses throughout the nation.”

It defines hazing as conditioning acceptance into a group on breaking the law; consuming food, booze or drugs that put someone in emotional or physical harm; brutality of a sexual nature; putting them through whipping, beating, branding, calisthenics or exposure to severe weather; or sleep deprivation, “exclusion from social conduct” or extreme embarrassment.

It would create tiers for hazing, making it a summary offense unless someone is hurt or dies. Hazing that is reasonably likely to injure someone would be a misdemeanor, while an incident that results in severe injury or death would be a felony.

More:Parents, frat leaders launch national anti-hazing effort

More:Parents of Penn State hazing victim settle with fraternity

More:Most serious charges dismissed in Penn State frat death

The bill includes a “safe harbor” provision that under certain circumstances would insulate people from prosecution if they sought help for someone involved in a hazing incident.

Tim Piazza was injured in falling down a set of basement steps, after which fraternity members made inept and even counterproductive efforts to help him. The house’s security video captured his excruciating night on a first-floor couch, including him stumbling in the darkness and falling.

He was discovered unconscious in the basement the next morning, and it took fraternity members 40 minutes to summon an ambulance. Authorities say he had severe head and abdominal injuries, and a blood-alcohol content several times the state’s legal limit for driving.