Louisiana could soon be among the states with the strictest criminal penalties for hazing after the death of an LSU freshman last fall has prompted a review of the state's anti-hazing laws.
The state House on Monday voted 87-0 in favor of House Bill 78, dubbed the Max Gruver Act for the 18-year-old who 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. Gruver was pronounced dead at a local hospital. His blood alcohol level was 0.495 – more than six times the legal limit to drive.
Four former LSU students were indicted last month in Gruver's death.
"If this bill could save one life, it would be worth it," Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said as Gruver's parents, RaeAnn and Stephen, watched from the side of the House chamber.
The legislation, which would allow harsher punishment in hazing cases, particularly when hazing leads to death, now heads to the state Senate for consideration.
A hazing conviction under current law carries a maximum $100 fine and 30 days behind bars.
Under Landry's measure, those who take part in hazing activities that result in death 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.
Gruver's death and similar cases have sparked a national debate over whether existing laws are stringent enough and how to avoid repeat tragedies. RaeAnn and Stephen Gruver have twice traveled from their home in Roswell, Georgia, to the Louisiana Capitol this legislative session to show their support for HB78.
It's unclear when the bill will be heard in a Senate committee, but the upper chamber has already approved a second bill this session that seeks to deter hazing by making it easier to sue when someone dies from hazing.
Landry said that her bill seeks to clarify how the state deals with hazing cases. Currently, the state's law against hazing is an education measure. Her bill would move it to the criminal code.
"It provides a real clear definition of what hazing is, that we don't have in existing law," Landry said. "It's very clear for a student to understand that this is against the law."
Though no legislator voted against her bill, some questioned whether it is an issue that justifies state law.
"Why do we need more laws?" said Rep. Larry Bagley, a Stonewall Republican who eventually voted for the measure.
Bagley noted that LSU has been working to strengthen its anti-hazing policies on campus following Gruver's death.
LSU students caught hazing are now automatically expelled and involved student organizations are kicked off campus, under the new policies announced in February.
Landry's bill is one of two this session specifically addressing hazing.
The Senate passed Senate Bill 91 on Wednesday without discussion in a 28-3 vote.
Under SB91, anyone found responsible for a hazing-related death could face additional civil penalties. That could include penalties for individual perpetrators, as well as universities and national chapters of organizations that don’t have clear anti-hazing policies.