Louisiana will likely soon have harsher criminal penalties for those convicted of hazing, following last fall's death of an LSU freshman fraternity pledge.
Three anti-hazing measures are on their way to Gov. John Bel Edwards' desk following action this week.
Without discussion, the state House on Wednesday night voted 88-1 in favor of final passage of House Bill 78, the most significant of the three which would be known as the Max Gruver Act. Edwards is expected to sign it into law.
Gruver, 18, was one month into his first year of college at LSU when police said he attended a fraternity initiation event and was forced to chug 190-proof liquor. His blood alcohol level was 0.495 when he died – more than six times the legal limit to drive.
Four former LSU students have been indicted in Gruver's death and have pleaded not guilty – one on a charge of negligent homicide and three others with hazing.
Phi Delta Theta fraternity has been banned from LSU's campus until at least 2033, following an investigation into the events that led to Gruver's death.
A hazing conviction under current law carries a maximum $100 fine and 30 days behind bars.
Under HB78, people who take part in hazing activities that result in death when the victim's blood alcohol level is at least .30 would face up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000.
Hazing that doesn't lead to death would be subject to fines of up to $1,000 and six months in prison.
Organizations – fraternities, sororities, associations, social clubs, athletic teams and similar groups on college or high school campuses – that knowingly allow hazing could also face fines of up to $10,000.
Rep. Nancy Landry, a Lafayette Republican who authored HB78, has said her bill was prompted by Gruver's death, which along with similar cases has helped ignite a national debate over how to prevent future hazing-linked tragedies and whether existing anti-hazing laws are stringent enough.
The proposed Max Gruver Act is one of multiple measures in this legislative session to intended to combat hazing. Gruver's parents, RaeAnn and Stephen, have traveled from their home in Roswell, Georgia, to the Louisiana Capitol multiple times this session to support HB78, testifying in emotional hearings about the loss of their son.
“Our house used to be filled with laughing friends and now it’s filled with sadness,” RaeAnn Gruver said, choking back tears, during a House committee hearing on the bill last month. “This will save lives, it would’ve saved Max’s, and it definitely could save someone else’s life in the future.”
Another hazing-related measure, House Bill 793, also received final passage on Wednesday in an 88-1 vote. HB793 was part of Edwards' legislative agenda and is also expected to be signed into law.
Sponsored by Rep. Steve Carter, R-Baton Rouge, HB793 would require universities and colleges to expel or suspend students who haze others. It would also require groups to report suspected hazing and mandate anti-hazing education.
Additionally, the state Board of Regents will be required to develop a uniform policy on hazing prevention for all colleges and universities in the state that includes adding hazing education to new student orientation. Greek organizations and other student life groups would also be required to provide at least an hour of hazing prevention education for all members and prospective members.
Senate Bill 91, sponsored by Baton Rouge Republican Dan Claitor, is also on its way to the governor to stiffen anti-hazing laws in the state.
Under SB91, anyone found responsible for a hazing-related death could face additional civil penalties. It could be applied to individual perpetrators, as well as universities and national chapters of organizations that don’t have clear anti-hazing policies.
The measure would only apply to those who are responsible in hazing deaths — not just the act of hazing alone. It also would not apply to bystanders.