Gov. Tom Wolf on Friday signed into law what proponents are describing as the most comprehensive anti-hazing bill in the country.
The Timothy J. Piazza Anti-hazing Law strengthens penalties for hazing and is intended to ensure that schools have safeguards to protect students.
Timothy Piazza was a 19-year-old Penn State University student who died in February 2017 at a fraternity.
“Tim’s tragic experience has led to real change. There is no place for hazing on our college campuses. And together, we will protect students and hold accountable those who engage in it,” Wolf said. “We mourn for Tim’s loss with his family, and while we can never fix what they’ve gone through, this new law will help to prevent other tragedies.”
The National Study of Student Hazing reports that 55 percent of college students involved in clubs, teams, and organizations experience hazing.
James Piazza, Timothy’s father, said he hopes lawmakers in every other state move to pass legislation similar to the Pennsylvania law. He added it will only make a difference if law enforcement and the judicial system use the law effectively.
“The Legislature has given the justice system the tool to punish this egregious behavior,” he said.
The courts have repeatedly thrown out the most serious charges filed by prosecutors against the fraternity brothers allegedly involved in Timothy Piazza’s hazing. Centre County Magisterial District Judge Carmine Prestia Jr. on Aug. 24 dismissed involuntary manslaughter and the other most serious charges filed against Beta Theta Pi fraternity members for their alleged roles in the 2017 deatha. He allowed prosecution under the state’s existing hazing law to continue. It was the third time that a judge in the case had refused to allow prosecution on homicide-related charges in Piazza’s death.
The new law creates the crime of aggravated hazing that could be used in cases of serious bodily injury or death. Aggravated hazing would be a third-degree felony, which carries a maximum sentence of seven years in prison. The existing hazing law only carries a maximum penalty of up to a year in prison.
The law was authored by state Sen. Jake Corman, R-Centre County, whose district includes Penn State.
“No parent ever wants a law named after their child,” Corman said, noting that the honor almost always means something terrible happened.
The efforts of the Piazza family to force change in the wake of their family’s tragedy means that other parents can be a little more assured about conditions on college campuses where their children attend, he said.
The new law, which passed with unanimous support in the General Assembly, provides several measures to prevent hazing, including:
• Strengthening penalties for hazing with a new tiered system that, for the first time, includes a felony for aggravated hazing that results in serious injury or death;
• Holding organizations accountable for promoting hazing, which could include the confiscation of fraternity and sorority houses;
• Requiring schools to have anti-hazing rules, enforcement policies and preventative measures and to make information about hazing violations available to the public to help inform students and parents;
• Creating a safe-harbor provision, giving students immunity from prosecution for calling police or seeking assistance for someone in need of help.
"This law is important movement in an ongoing conversation to identify meaningful solutions that create transformational change,” said Penn State President Eric J. Barron. “Unfortunately, hazing continues to plague universities across the country, and we hope this law will serve as a model for other state legislatures to effect critically needed national reform. We are thankful to our Legislature and the Governor, as well as to the family of Timothy Piazza, for their commitment to addressing this serious issue."