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Legislators consider bill to crack down on hazing

by TIMOTHY FAIRBANKS-CLOUSER, Herald Legislative Writer
| January 14, 2022 1:00 AM

New legislation may require higher education institutions to double down on the practice of hazing, as a bill on it got immense support in a public hearing with state legislators on Thursday.

Since 2000, around 100 people in the U.S. have died because of hazing-related incidents, said Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place. The most recent death was Sam Martinez, a Washington State University student and pledge of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

Many committee members shed tears as Martinez’s mother and father, Jolayne Houtz and Hector Martinez, shared a story of losing their son only weeks into his freshman year at WSU. The couple was among more than a dozen people who testified in support of House Bill 1751.

“Our world broke apart the day that Sam died,” Houtz said. “I can’t rest until we put in place safeguards to ensure no other family goes through the hell of losing their child to hazing.”

The new legislation expands the definition of hazing and requires higher education institutions to prohibit hazing on- and off-campus. The definition now applies to athletic teams, student organizations and living groups.

Hazing is not confined to the Greek life system, Leavitt said. The practice is seen in sports programs, marching bands and more. Preventative education is needed on an organizational level to see change.

“Fifty-five percent of students reported hazing as a result of the participation in student clubs, organizations and athletics,” she said. “Ninety-five percent of these cases go unreported.”

If passed, the state would require higher education institutions to provide students and guardians with an educational program on hazing and the associated risks. Institutions must verify a student’s completion of the program before initiation to any student organization, athletic team or living group.

Employees and volunteers of higher education institutions would also be required to complete annual training. If they witness or have reasonable cause to believe an incident occurred, the person is required to report to the proper authority; the bill protects a person reporting from punishment unless they are involved.

Leavitt said HB 1751 would require institutions to maintain and report findings of hazing violations, as well as ongoing investigations into a variety of other offenses. The reports of investigation findings must remain available to the public for five years after publication.

Washington State Board for Community and Technical Colleges representatives testified in support of the bill. However, Joe Holliday, of WSBCTC student services, suggested the state only require actual hazing findings to be published, not statuses of ongoing investigations.

Under the bill, to maintain recognition, Greek life organizations must provide a link to a website containing a list of all hazing violations against the chapter under various authorities within the last five years. Chapters are also required to report when an investigation has begun.

House Bill 1751 significantly increases transparency regarding hazing violations, allowing students and their parents to make informed decisions before joining a fraternity or sorority, Martinez said.

“If I only had known then, what I know now,” he said, “Samito would be alive.”

The bill’s language defines hazing as any actions that cause, direct, coerce or force a person to consume any food, liquid, alcohol, drug or other substance that poses a risk of harm, regardless of whether that person is willing to participate.

The Washington State House College & Workforce Development Committee had an additional 165 people sign into the hearing to support HB 1751 on record without testifying.

“I know that your support for this bill will not give my son back to me,” Martinez said, “but it gives me the satisfaction of knowing this bill will save young lives.”

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