The Kentucky Senate voted Thursday to carve out a new crime that could punish hazing with jail time, responding to calls for action following the death of a university student.
The bill would create a felony crime for hazing that results in the death or serious injury of a student. The offense would be punishable by up to five years in prison. Also under the bill, someone accused of recklessly engaging in hazing would face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail.
The bill won Senate passage on a 27-7 vote, sending the proposal to the House.
Republican Sen. Robby Mills, the bill’s lead sponsor, said the goal is to save lives.
“For far too long, hazing has been this awkward rite of passage in Kentucky that many still refuse to acknowledge is wrong,” Mills said. “We believe the elevation of hazing to a crime addresses head-on the seriousness of these actions. It lets students know that Kentucky values student safety.”
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The bill cleared a Senate committee recently after hearing from the family of Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, an 18-year-old freshman at the University of Kentucky.
Tracey Hazelwood, the student’s mother, told lawmakers that after he pledged to a fraternity, her son had to participate in illegal acts that “could have got him kicked out of school” in order to belong to the fraternity, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. On the night he died, she said, his blood alcohol concentration was 0.354. The legal limit for adults to drive is 0.08.
The bill defines hazing as endangering the mental or physical health of a student for recruitment, initiation into or affiliation with an organization, or to enhance or maintain status within a group. It would include consuming alcohol, tobacco or food to the extent that it puts someone at risk of injury, or such “physical brutality” as whipping, beating or branding or exposure to the elements.