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Ohio lawmakers push for harsher hazing punishment

The bill would increase penalties for participating in hazing, bring transparency to the issue, and address the culture that allows hazing to happen.
Published: Mar. 10, 2021 at 9:49 AM EST
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TOLEDO, Ohio (WTVG) - Ohio lawmakers held a virtual press conference Wednesday announcing the introduction of anti-hazing legislation.

State Senators Theresa Gavarone (R- Bowling Green) and Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) are sponsoring the bill to end hazing on Ohio’s college campuses, an effort gaining renewed attention following the death of Bowling Green State University student Stone Foltz over the weekend. Foltz died Sunday night after an alleged alcohol-related hazing incident at the Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity house on Thursday night.

Sen. Kunze said the goal of the legislation is to bring more transparency to any instance of hazing, increase penalties, and address the campus culture which allows it to continue. It would create a statewide standard to hold universities and organizations accountable across the board and require education on the dangers of hazing for all incoming college students.

The new legislation would specify what hazing means to clarify that anyone causing, forcing, soliciting, or coercing a person to break the law, consume substances that could present emotional or physical harm, or create a risk of emotional harm to another is complicit in hazing.

It also creates a new offense of aggravated hazing, which could be a second-degree felony if an incident presents a risk of physical harm, as well as the offense of supporting hazing for instances in which hazing is not reported.

Gavarone and Kunze said the bill is different from H.B. 310, known as Collin’s law, which passed the Ohio House in 2020 but fell short in the Senate. It was named after Collin Wiant, a victim of hazing who died in 2018. Sen. Kunze said that bill didn’t pass because it was broader, targeting bullying among K-12 students as well as anti-hazing initiatives. The new legislation eliminates the bullying component and the lawmakers believe that will make it more likely to become law. Senator Gavarone believes there will be bipartisan support for it and said her colleagues are disheartened by the news about Foltz.

The elected officials were joined by Kathleen Wiant, the mother of Collin Wiant, for the announcement. She recounted what she learned happened to her son during his time at Ohio University. She said Collin was beaten, waterboarded, and forced to take drugs. She has become an advocate for anti-hazing initiatives and said there’s no better way to honor the life and legacy of her son than to pass a law dedicated to protecting others.

Bowling Green State University leadership released a statement on Tuesday voicing support for the legislation and on Thursday a University spokesman reiterated that support saying, in part, “Hazing is intolerable and has no place at Bowling Green State University, on college campuses or in communities across Ohio. Bowling Green State University, along with all of our public universities in Ohio, strongly reaffirms its support for Collin’s Law and will work tirelessly to help secure its passage.”

The University of Toledo is also taking up the issue. University President Dr. Gregory Postel tweeted his support for the legislation, promising to work closely with the General Assembly and Gov. Mike DeWine to pass the anti-hazing bill.

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