NJ lawmakers look to boost criminal penalties for hazing
TRENTON — Criminal penalties for hazing would be stiffened under a bill advanced Tuesday by a state Senate committee.
Hazing is currently a disorderly persons offense in New Jersey but is upgraded to aggravated hazing, a fourth-degree crime, if serious bodily injury occurs. The bill would make hazing a fourth-degree crime and a third-degree crime if serious injuries result.
The bill, S3150/A4728, is named Timothy J. Piazza’s Law, named for a Penn State University student from Readington who died in February 2017 in a fraternity hazing incident.
“He died tragically, and it could have been avoided,” said Sen. Kip Bateman, R-Somerset.
Jim Piazza, Timothy’s father, said hazing often starts small, then “progresses into something that becomes dangerous and life-threatening.”
“The hazing law that we’re putting forth is a necessary thing. Hazing is happening way too often in college campuses, but also in high schools and middle schools as well,” Piazza said.
“And children are dying. You only hear about the high-profile situations, and unfortunately our son become a poster child for it,” he said. “But there are so many situations where individuals get seriously hurt or die and no one ever knows about it.”
Piazza said hazing is always a “well-orchestrated and planned” event.
“And the individuals that are perpetrating, that are carrying them out, are taking other students’ lives in their hands. And without stiffer legislation and without legislation that it easier to prosecute, it’s going to continue to happen. And we want it to stop. We want to put an end to it,” Piazza said.
“And unfortunately, that’s what it’s going to take. But it’s no different than when people were driving drunk. They got the message finally, and people don’t do it because they’re afraid of the implications of it,” he said.
A related bill, S3628/A5273, was held for further private discussions before a hearing. It would require colleges, high schools and middle schools to have anti-hazing policies, expand the list of activities that are considered hazing and upgrade penalties.
Evelyn Piazza, Timothy’s mother, advocated for the delayed legislation, which includes transparency requirements.
“This gives parents and students a tool to look on a school’s website and see what organizations their child is interested in joining and see what offense that they’ve had and make a good decision – like, an informed decision,” she said.
Bateman’s bill specifically identifies that causing, coercing, or forcing the consumption of alcohol or drugs can be considered hazing, after an investigation found Piazza consumed 18 alcohol drinks in 90 minutes.
Third-degree crimes can be punished by three to five years in prison and a fine up to $15,000, Fourth-degree crimes can be punished by up to 18 months in prison and fines up to $10,000.
Pennsylvania has passed a similar bill into law.
The bill was endorsed by the Senate Judiciary Committee and forward to the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee. It would require at least four more approvals in the Legislature before it could reach Gov. Phil Murphy.