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Murphy, Greenwald & Freiman Bill Expanding Definition & Upgrading Criminal Charges for Hazing Passes Assembly

To discourage the use of hazing as part of organizations’ initiation ceremonies on college campuses, a bill sponsored by Assembly Democrats Carol Murphy, Louis Greenwald and Roy Freiman seeks to preempt the return of hazing to New Jersey schools. The measure unanimously passed the full Assembly Thursday.

The legislation (A-3149/S-84/2093) would require institutions of higher education as well as public and private middle and high schools in New Jersey to adopt a written anti-hazing policy and adopt/enforce penalties for violations of the policy.

“Hazing has been a problem plaguing our institutions of higher education for years,” said Assemblywoman Murphy (D-Burlington). “Far too many students looking to socialize and fit in with their peers have been pressured into participating in dangerous activities with very real consequences. We must do everything we can to prevent the loss of any more lives as a result of hazing.”

The measure expands the definition of hazing to include any conduct that causes, coerces or forces another person to commit an act that violates the law or to consume harmful substances. Any conduct that subjects another person to abuse, mistreatment, harassment or degradation of a physical, mental/emotional or sexual nature would also be considered hazing under the bill.

“It is simply unnecessary for a fraternity or any other college organization to force fellow students into dangerous situations in order to initiate them into a group,” said Majority Leader Greenwald (D-Camden, Burlington). “I know our students can find better ways to socialize with one another that don’t needlessly put anyone’s health or safety at risk. This legislation will help serve as a deterrent, by making it clear our state does not tolerate this behavior.”

Hazing is currently classified as a disorderly persons offense if someone encourages, facilitates or participates in conduct that could – or does – place another person in danger of bodily injury in connection with the initiation of applicants/members of a student or fraternal organization. If that conduct leads to serious bodily injury, it is considered ‘aggravated hazing’ and classified as a fourth degree crime.

Under the bill, hazing that leads to serious bodily injury or death would be upgraded to a crime of the third degree whereas hazing that leads to bodily injury would be upgraded to a crime of the fourth degree. Hazing that does not result in injury or death would remain a disorderly persons offense. The upgraded charges would lead to increased penalties for individuals found guilty of those crimes.

The bill was inspired by an incident where a student from New Jersey named Timothy J. Piazza fell down a flight of stairs after participating in drinking games as part of the pledging process for a Penn State University fraternity. Not only were he and other pledges encouraged to drink heavily throughout the night, but the fraternity members did not seek medical treatment for Piazza until the next morning. He tragically died at the hospital.

“Simply put, students like Timothy Piazza should never feel as though school is a dangerous environment,” said Assemblyman Freiman (D-Somerset, Mercer, Middlesex, Hunterdon). “This measure will help prevent senseless losses of life in our universities and ensure students’ college experiences are safer going forward.”

The bill now goes to the Senate.