By: Reney Waters, Follow South Jersey News Reporting Intern
SOUTH JERSEY — Last week, Governor Phil Murphy signed “Timothy J. Piazza’s Law” into law. The bill requires higher education institutions and public schools to implement anti-hazing policies. It also increases the criminal penalties of hazing-related crimes that cause serious injury or death.
Hazing that results in serious injury or death is now a third-degree offense – up from its previous status as a fourth-degree crime. Hazing that results in less serious injuries, which used to be considered a disorderly persons offense, is now a fourth-degree crime.
“The safety of our students is our top priority, and we must do all that we can to protect them from cruel and dangerous hazing rituals,” Gov. Murphy said. “With today’s bill signing, we honor Tim Piazza’s life and make our strongest effort yet to root out hazing to prevent similar tragedies.”
The bill is named after Tim Piazza, a New Jersey native and Penn State student who died as a result of hazing in February 2017. Piazza died from injuries suffered after falling down a flight of stairs at the Beta Theta Pi fraternity house on campus.
He fell down the stairs after consuming the equivalent of 18 alcoholic drinks in approximately 90 minutes as part of the fraternity’s bid acceptance night. He fell down the stairs at around 10:45 p.m. on February 2, 2017, but those in the house didn’t call 911 until 10:48 a.m. the next morning.
As a result of the incident, Beta Theta Pi was permanently banned from Penn State, and several members were charged with crimes including involuntary manslaughter and aggravated assault. The story made national headlines, and Piazza’s parents became staunch anti-hazing advocates. They also started the Timothy J. Piazza Memorial Foundation in their son’s memory.
“This legislation places the issue of hazing front and center,” Dr. Angelica Allen-McMillan, New Jersey’s Acting Commissioner of Education, said in a statement. “It further emphasizes the importance of fostering positive school climates that help to develop character among students. In addition, it sends the message that this type of behavior is not acceptable.”
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This article was produced by a Follow South Jersey news intern thanks to a grant provided by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation through the New Jersey Health Initiatives program to create hyper-local news to meet the informational and health needs of the City of Bridgeton, N.J.