Penn State

‘No place in our society’: Lawmakers attempting a national hazing crackdown after Timothy Piazza’s death

Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman proposes anti-hazing law named after deceased Penn State pledge

Sen. Jake Corman spoke March 23 on the steps of the Centre County Courthouse about proposed anti-hazing legislation that would enact stiffer penalties on those convicted of hazing. The bill has its roots in deceased Penn State pledge Timothy Piazza.
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Sen. Jake Corman spoke March 23 on the steps of the Centre County Courthouse about proposed anti-hazing legislation that would enact stiffer penalties on those convicted of hazing. The bill has its roots in deceased Penn State pledge Timothy Piazza.

Colleges and universities nationwide would see a hazing crackdown under legislation floated Thursday in part by Pennsylvania Sen. Bob Casey.

Casey joined two Democratic colleagues, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, to introduce the Senate bill, which is similar to statewide measures adopted in Pennsylvania after the 2017 hazing death of Penn State sophomore Timothy Piazza. The federal Report and Educate About Campus Hazing Act would require colleges to report hazing incidents as part of annual crime reports and to develop campus-wide, research-based programs preventing the practice.

The bill also aims to establish a definition for hazing to clarify what constitutes a reportable offense. A House version of the legislation was first introduced in 2017 but never reached a full vote.

“Hazing has absolutely no place in our society or in our schools,” Casey said in a statement. “I’m proud to join in this effort to ensure that these horrific incidents are appropriately reported and that students are educated on the dangers of hazing.”

During a phone call Thursday, Casey said he wants to make sure a federal policy speaks to Piazza’s death and prevents similar incidents.

“This is not just a Pennsylvania issue,” Casey said. “It’s been a problem at institutions of higher educations for years. And unfortunately, like a lot of things in our society ... there’s not action in a more determined effort until there’s a tragedy. And that’s unfortunate and regrettable that it takes that kind of an incident, that kind of a tragedy to do more.”

Casey said the REACH Act follows a path similar to the federal Campus SaVE Act, passed as part of the Violence Against Women Act reauthorization. That move broadened reporting requirements for colleges and universities in areas such as domestic and dating violence.

“We have to figure out a similar strategy or pathway for (the REACH Act) to get passed because it’s highly unlikely that (it) passes in a singular fashion,” Casey said. “It more likely has to be attached to other legislation.”

Jim and Evelyn Piazza, Timothy Piazza’s parents, lobbied Wednesday in Washington, D.C., alongside other parents whose children died as a result of hazing. They spoke with Casey.

“I was telling them ... they will be more effective, more persuasive advocates for the legislation than any single legislator,” Casey said. “Sometimes the families who are most directly affected become the best ambassadors for the legislation.”

Tom Kline, the Piazzas’ attorney, said the couple was pleased to see the REACH Act’s introduction in the Senate. The family hopes for bipartisan support, Kline said.

“We can only achieve an eradication of hazing by a change in the laws, as has already been seen in the Pennsylvania Timothy J. Piazza anti-hazing law and then strict compliance and enforcement,” Kline said. “The additional federal measure will further inure to the safety of college students and fraternity members.”

The Piazzas also met with North American Interfraternity Conference President and CEO Judson Horras, who supports the bill. The Indiana-based association represents 66 fraternities at about 800 campuses.

“We believe it is a strong sign of action on this critical issue that the REACH Act is being introduced in the Senate and continues to gain support in the House after its reintroduction by Rep. Marcia Fudge and Rep. David Joyce,” Horras said.

National Panhellenic Conference CEO Dani Weatherford also supported the bill.

“We know that students and parents have long had access to timely information about campus security, and we believe they deserve the same transparency about incidents of hazing as well,” Weatherford said in a statement. “Legislation alone won’t end hazing on campus, but legislation like this can help students, administrators and parents have access to the information that lets them hold organizations and campuses accountable.”

From left: Judson Horras, president & CEO of the North American Interfraternity Conference; Evelyn Piazza; Mike Piazza; Jim Piazza; U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN.); Lianne Kowiak; Dani Weatherford, National Panhellenic Conference CEO Todd Shelton, NIC communications officer North American Interfraternity Conference

Penn State, which pledged millions of dollars toward anti-hazing efforts since Piazza’s death in February 2017, said it’s dedicated to addressing hazing as a critical issue.

“Our support of anti-hazing legislative efforts is in line with our strong commitment to the safety and well-being of students, not only at Penn State, but across the nation,” university spokeswoman Lisa Powers said. “We look forward to reviewing the Senate bill and to actively engaging in the legislative process as this moves ahead.”

State Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Benner Township — who authored the Pennsylvania anti-hazing law passed in October — said he always intended for his legislation to be a model for changing laws nationwide.

“With the death of Tim Piazza two years (ago), Pennsylvania became ground zero for a need to take action to end hazing. With that, wide-ranging changes were made to the state’s anti-hazing law that included prevention, enforcement and transparency,” Corman said in a statement. “I am encouraged to see Sen. Casey decided to step in after a similar measure failed to pass in D.C. last year. I hope he can persuade his colleagues of the importance of adopting these important measures.”

Jim Piazza speaks about the death of his son, Timothy Piazza. Piazza passed away in February after injuries from a party at Beta Theta Pi at Penn State.

Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.