ATLANTA — Students convicted of hazing would be barred from enrolling in many Georgia schools, under legislation now being considered by state lawmakers.
The bill that would toughen Georgia’s existing law on hazing was introduced during last year’s legislative session, but could see new interest after a Florida A&M University drum major from Georgia died from suspected hazing in November.
It would ban any student convicted of hazing from enrolling in Georgia’s K-12 schools, colleges and universities, even if the incident happened in another state. It also adds athletic teams to the list of organizations covered in the law.
The legislation’s sponsor, Rep. Joe Wilkinson, a Republican from Sandy Springs, introduced the bill in April, six months before the death of FAMU student Robert Champion.
“That was such a terrible tragedy,” he said after a hearing Wednesday before a House education subcommittee.
Wilkinson, chairman of the House Ethics Committee, said he has been concerned about hazing for years, particularly after he heard stories of hazing on college sports teams.
He said he believes it’s time to revise the state’s hazing law passed in 1986 but is flexible on how to do that. Wilkinson called his bill a “very extreme measure” that he expects to be tweaked by his fellow lawmakers.
“You need a starting point,” he said.
Under current law, it is illegal to haze a student who is trying to join a school organization, fraternity or sorority. Violating the law is a misdemeanor, which would not change under the proposed legislation.
Hazing is defined as subjecting a student to an “activity which endangers or is likely to endanger the physical health of the student, regardless of a student’s willingness to participate in such activity.”
Joe Gilman, a board member of hazingprevention.org and a former national president of the Sigma Nu fraternity, testified during Wednesday’s meeting that Champion’s death has created a “heightened level of dialogue” about hazing.
“His death will be for naught if we do not translate that dialogue into actions,” he told state lawmakers.
The subcommittee did not vote on the bill but tabled it for more discussion.
Experts say Georgia and 43 other states have anti-hazing laws, including Florida, where Champion’s death has been ruled a homicide, though no arrests have been made in the case. Authorities have arrested seven FAMU band members for hazing other students, including an incident where a band member from Georgia ended up with a broken leg.
Champion’s family was not at Wednesday’s legislative hearing at the Capitol.
HB 659: http://www.legis.ga.gov