By Ben Peters
Athens NEWS Associate Editor
Athens County Prosecutor Keller Blackburn and Ohio University Police Department Chief Andrew Powers last Wednesday both testified before the Ohio Senate Workforce and Higher Education Committee in support of revived anti-hazing legislation, or Collin’s Law.
Both men, whose offices worked together closely in investigating the 2018 hazing-related death of Collin Wiant, an OU student who the bill is named after, argued it provides robust reforms to current hazing laws seen by the two as inadequate. The newly proposed measure would increase the penalty for hazing, currently a fourth-degree misdemeanor, to a felony if adopted.
“Through my prosecution of those involved in the events leading up to Collin Wiant’s death, I know first-hand of the problems associated with Ohio’s current hazing law,” Blackburn, who’s worked closely with Wiant’s mother in lobbying the legislature to amend hazing laws, said in a letter to the committee. “The definition is too limiting, the penalties are too weak, and the difficulties in mounting an effective prosecution are too great given the weakness of the penalties.”
Powers, who wrote both as a representative of OU and on behalf of the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, echoed much of what Blackburn said in his statement.
“Because of the way the law is currently structured in Ohio, hazing is rarely pursued in criminal prosecutions,” Powers said. “The penalties are too low and the burdens of prosecution too high. This has resulted in a situation where I believe the current law does not provide an effective deterrent to this insidious practice.”
Blackburn previously endorsed House Bill 310, a past version of Collin’s Law introduced in the Ohio House of Representatives that stalled in the Senate late last year.
He also spoke alongside the sponsors of the new anti-hazing proposal, Sens. Stephanie Kunze (R-Hilliard) and Theresa Gavarone (R-Bowling Green) earlier in March at a press conference where they announced the bill, which was introduced following the hazing-related death of Bowling Green State University student Stone Foltz.
Also testifying on Wednesday was Bruce Johnson, president of the Inter-University Council (IUC) of Ohio, a group of 14 peer state universities including OU. He praised the legislation and the two sponsors, who he said worked closely with the IUC for review and comment prior to its introduction.
“Everyone agrees that hazing is unacceptable and intolerable. It is something we do not condone, and it must never be excused or rationalized. It furthers no end and serves no legitimate purpose. It is not justifiable, and it is not harmless,” Johnson wrote. “And, as we have just experienced again with the family of Stone Foltz, the consequences are devastating. Hazing must stop and to stop it we must change the culture and what some may view as acceptable behavior.”