BRANCHBURG – New Jersey is increasing criminal penalties for hazing and will require middle schools, high schools and colleges to adopt anti-hazing policies with associated penalties, under a law enacted Tuesday.

Gov. Phil Murphy signed the bill into law in a ceremony held at Raritan Valley Community College, the higher education institution closest to the Readington home of Jim and Evelyn Piazza, whose 19-year-old son, Timothy, died in a fraternity hazing ritual at Penn State University in 2017.

Evelyn Piazza said the law is among the nation’s toughest anti-hazing efforts and urged schools, police officers and prosecutors to use it.

“You have been given a strong tool to use against hazing. Please use it to its fullest extent,” she said. “Do not overlook behaviors because you think it was all in good fun or use the boys-will-be-boys mentality. Hazing is always done with the intent to cause harm.”

Acting Attorney General Andrew Bruck promised the law will be used by his office if needed, though added there is “nothing that would make me happier” than there never being a hazing incident that would warrant that.

“We will hold accountable those who break the law,” Bruck said. “I don’t care if it’s the president of the oldest fraternity at Rutgers. I don’t care if it’s the social chair of the fanciest eating club at Princeton. If you break the law, we will hold you accountable, and we will prosecute you to the fullest extent of the law.”

Under the new law, hazing will be upgraded from a fourth-degree crime to a third-degree crime if it results in death or serious bodily injury. It will be a fourth-degree crime, rather than a disorderly persons offense, if it results in bodily injury.

“It also provides for amnesty for someone who gets help for the victim, which is important because I think about what if that amnesty provision existed in Pennsylvania?” Jim Piazza said. “Would somebody have stepped up to save Tim’s life?”

Gov. Phil Murphy said the law adopts a broader definition of hazing and will require school districts to have unambiguous policies for dealing with it by next June.

“Hazing will no longer be treated with a symbolic slap on the back of the hand or, worse, a blind eye and a smirk. We will no longer tolerate actions that put anyone’s presumed privilege or power over the well-being of even one of their peers,” Murphy said.

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The law goes into effect next March.

The law is unofficially named after Timothy Piazza, though that designation was formally removed from the bill under a new legislative policy in which bills aren’t ceremonially named any more.

Michael Symons is State House bureau chief for New Jersey 101.5. Contact him at michael.symons@townsquaremedia.com.

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