In the next few weeks, Pennsylvania Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman plans to unveil legislation dealing with hazing in response to the death of Tim Piazza.
Penn State sophomore Piazza died last February after sustaining injuries at a Beta Theta Pi bid acceptance event.
In the time since, 18 fraternity members, and the Alpha Upsilon chapter of Beta Theta Pi itself, were charged in connection with his death. The initial preliminary hearing dragged out over months, resulting in the most severe charges — including involuntary manslaughter, aggravated assault and simple assault — being dropped in September.
Stacy Parks Miller, then Centre County district attorney, refiled the dismissed charges before leaving office. She also filed new charges in November after deleted security camera footage from the frat’s basement was recovered.
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Penn State announced in March “aggressive” changes to the Greek system, including new rules on socials and “rush,” and has been working to implement them. The fraternity has been permanently banned.
The draft bill focuses on dealing with hazing in the criminal code — having different levels depending on what type of hazing it is, Corman, R-Benner Township, said. There would be misdemeanor offenses, but instances where hazing leads to death or “significant bodily harm” would be felonies.
That tiered system was recommended in the Centre County grand jury findings that Parks Miller released in December.
Corman said he’s worked with the Piazza family, Penn State and law enforcement in crafting this draft legislation.
“It’s certainly not gonna bring back their child or relieve their pain,” he said. “But we thought it was important to engage with them and try to come up with something that is meaningful.”
It would also add deterrents and bring responsibility to institutions, like Greek organizations and Penn State, Corman said.
“The Piazzas are supportive of legislation which will impose stricter penalties on individuals and institutions, including both felony and forfeiture provisions, in order to provide significant deterrence to future harm and death as a result of hazing,” a statement from the family’s attorney, Tom Kline, said.
Penn State is committed to supporting legislative efforts at both the state and federal level related to hazing, “including advocating for passage of state legislation to increase penalties related to hazing that involves drugs, alcohol or physical or mental abuse,” university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said in an email.
Another element of the draft legislation would be amnesty for people who call for help, Corman said.
Piazza allegedly fell down the basement stairs at about 11 p.m. Feb. 2, 2017, at Beta Theta Pi’s fraternity house on Penn State’s campus, according to court documents. He was unconscious and unresponsive the next morning when first responders were finally notified about his condition.
The 11 Penn State fraternity members facing refiled charges in connection with Piazza’s death are scheduled for a second preliminary hearing in March.