The New Jersey Senate on Monday approved a bill, named after a Penn State student killed on campus, to increase protections for victims of hazing.
The parents of Timothy Piazza moved another step closer to helping prevent hazing incidents like the one that took their son’s life in 2017, as the New Jersey Senate approved the bill named after him by a 39-0 vote.
S-84, Timothy J. Piazza’s Law, would upgrade the crime of hazing from a disorderly persons offense to a fourth-degree crime if it causes bodily injury, and to a third-degree crime if it causes serious bodily injury. The bill would also require high schools, universities and student organizations, including fraternities, to take a more active role in preventing and punishing hazing activities.
Timothy Piazza of Readington, Pennsylvania, was a 19-year-old Penn State University student who died after consuming high amounts of alcohol at a fraternity hazing ritual in February 2017.
“No student deserves to go through the ritual humiliation that Timothy Piazza experienced on the night that he died,” said Sen. Christopher “Kip” Bateman, R-Somerset, the prime sponsor with Sen. Tom Kean, R-Union. “With the enactment of this bill, hazing will no longer be tolerated in New Jersey’s high schools and colleges.”
Kean said the bill sends a clear message: “We won’t allow this culture of humiliation and violence to continue in New Jersey,” said Kean in a statement immediately after the bill’s passage. “If you engage in hazing, you will be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”
Jim Piazza, Timothy’s father, has been traveling to college campuses and appearing before state legislatures with his wife Evelyn. The couple has made it their crusade to change hazing laws at the state and federal levels in honor of their late son.
A similar bill became law in Pennsylvania last year, with the Piazzas present for the bill signing by Gov. Tom Wolf.
Jim Piazza said Monday that he and Evelyn were gratified by the New Jersey Senate vote.
“We are very appreciative of Sen. Kip Bateman for pushing this bill along and of Sen. Tom Kean for jumping in to provide his support,” Piazza said in an email. “I would expect the Assembly would have no issue in passing this bill and no doubt the Governor will sign it when presented to him.”
“This law, and others like it, will provide the teeth that will hopefully hold those individuals who ignore the law accountable for their actions,” Piazza said. “Better yet, hopefully, it will serve as a deterrent to spare others from a similar fate as our son.”
“Unfortunately, we know all too well that hazing can turn deadly and no one should have to put themselves at risk for trying to join an organization,” Piazza said. “There should be no question that hazing results in forced or coerced actions.”
“When it is found that hazing occurs, we hope that law enforcement will use this law to properly charge individuals and that judges will properly sentence the individuals who engage in it,” added Piazza. “Failure to do so will make this law meaningless. … Strong sentences will make a difference. Anything less is passing the buck to the next time it happens.”
The Assembly companion bill, A-3149, sponsored by Assemblymembers Carol Murphy, D-Burlington; Louis Greenwald, D-Camden; and Roy Freiman, D-Somerset, has been referred to the Assembly Law and Public Safety Committee and has yet to be scheduled for a hearing.