By Sydney Dawes
Athens NEWS Editor
An amended version of “Collin’s Law,” anti-hazing legislation that had already received unanimous approval from the Ohio Senate,, passed unanimously in the Ohio House of Representatives on June 25.
The House’s amendment removed language regarding potential parental liability.
Senate Bill 126 — named for Ohio University student Collin Wiant. who died in the alleged annex of the since-expelled Sigma Pi Epsilon chapter at Ohio University in November 2018 — is now under consideration in the Ohio Senate for approval. If passed, it will then head to the desk of Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who in the past has called for reform in hazing law.
The law also pays tribute to Stone Foltz, a Bowling Green State University 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.”
Efforts to pass House Bill 310, a previous version of Collin’s Law introduced in the House by Rep. Dave Greenspan (R-Westlake), were successful in the House in 2020, but the bill stalled in the Senate in December. In March 2021, State Sen. Stephanie Kunze, (R-Hilliard) and Sen.Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green), reintroduced Collin’s Law, which not only will increase penalties for hazing, currently a fourth-degree misdemeanor, to a felony, but also will increase education for the state’s college students and transparency abilities for universities.
The version of the bill approved by the House also includes language that focuses solely on hazing; HB 310 included language about bullying in K-12 schools.
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn, who helped investigate Wiant’s death and prosecuted several members of the now-defunct fraternity, 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 was 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 previous penalties against acts of hazing were “weak” and “unenforceable,” noting that law enforcement had to break through “a code of silence” to investigate alleged hazing cases.
The bill also previously received backing from OU’s former President Duane Nellis, who submitted a letter in March alongside 13 other state university presidents, voicing support of the renewed anti-hazing legislation.
A lawsuit filed by Wiant’s parents, Kathleen and Wade, alleges that Sigma Pi fraternity pledges in Wiant’s class 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 2018 pledging process, 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.