Anti-hazing legislation introduced in the Ohio Senate following the 2018 death of an Ohio University student and the 2021 death of a Bowling Green State University student was unanimously passed Wednesday in the Ohio Senate.
Senate Bill 126, also called “Collin’s Law,” named for the OU student who died in the alleged annex of the since-expelled Sigma Pi Epsilon chapter at OU in November of 2018, will next head to the Ohio House of Representatives for consideration, the Columbus Dispatch reported.
The law also pays tribute to Stone Foltz, a BGSU student who died in March following an alleged hazing incident at an off-campus event hosted by the Pi Kappa Alpha Fraternity, often referred to as ‘PIKE,” according to Cleveland.com.
In March, State Sen. Stephanie Kunze, (R-Hilliard), reintroduced “Collin’s Law,” which aims to increase penalties for hazing, education for the state’s college students and transparency abilities for universities. The legislation was jointly sponsored by Sen. Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green).
Collin’s Law would increase the penalty for hazing, currently a fourth-degree misdemeanor, to a felony.
Last year, efforts to pass House Bill 310, a past version of Collin’s Law introduced in the House by Rep. Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake), were successful in the Ohio House, but the bill stalled in the state’s Senate in December. Kunze noted that she has been working with Wiant’s family to strengthen language in the bill since it failed to pass.
The Senate bill includes language that focuses solely on hazing, differing from House Bill 310, which also included language about bullying in K-12 schools.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, who previously endorsed House Bill 310, spoke at the March virtual press conference detailing the rebirth of Collin’s Law, asserting that current state hazing laws are inefficient, a message he has voiced numerous times in recent years. Hazing is currently a fourth-degree misdemeanor with a maximum prison sentence of 30 days, and city prosecutors are tasked with prosecuting it.
The prosecutor told The NEWS that he was happy with the bill passing the Senate, describing existing penalties against acts of hazing as “weak” and “unenforceable” and noting that law enforcement had to break through “a code of silence” to investigate alleged hazing cases.
He nodded to the efforts of Wiant’s mother, Kathleen, in her fight to educate others on the dangers of hazing.
“She has had a courageous fight after a tragic event,” he said.
The bill also received backing from OU’s outgoing President Duane Nellis, who submitted a letter in March alongside 13 other state university presidents, voicing support of renewed anti-hazing legislation in the Ohio Senate and condemning hazing.
OU also participated in a letter writing campaign in support of the bill.
OU spokesperson Carly Leatherwood told The NEWS that there were roughly 1,000 people participating between the 20 schools who were involved in the campaign kick-off, and 600 participants were specifically OU sorority and fraternity members. OU had roughly 20 student volunteers help in April with tabling for the campaign.
500 physical letters were sent, Leatherwood said, but even more were submitted digitally.
"The University is pleased to see that this important legislation is moving forward in the process," Leatherwood said.
Wiant’s death is at the center of lawsuits filed by his parents, Kathleen and Wade, with one filed in October 2020 against two former Sigma Pi fraternity leaders, alleging that during the fraternity's pledging process, Wiant’s class was subjected to “extensive hazing.”
Specifically, the suit alleged pledges were beaten with belts or “forced to beat others with a belt;” punched; pelted with eggs; forced to drink 1.75 liters of vodka in 60 minutes; deprived of sleep and “forced to do planks on sharp ends of bottle caps;” among other acts.
The suit also alleged that during the pledging process in 2018, Wiant was “subjected to physical abuse, verbal abuse, mental abuse, sleep deprivation, forced drug and alcohol use, and other forms of hazing intended to humiliate and demean him.”
Note: This article was updated July 6 to change state Sen.Theresa Gavarone's role from co-sponsor to joint sponsor of SB 126.