Hazing law now includes coerced over-consumption of alcohol

A Texas law that took effect September 1 makes it a crime under the state’s hazing law to coerce a student to consume a drug or to consume an alcoholic beverage in an amount that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the student was intoxicated. Supporters of the law, enacted as SB 38 by Zaffirini, said it addresses one of the most deadly forms of hazing.

The new law changes the Education Code definition of “hazing” to add the alcohol-specific conduct to other specific behaviors, including physical brutality or behaviors such as sleep deprivation or exposure to the elements that subject a student to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affect a student’s mental or physical health or safety. The bill removed language that supporters said was vague and difficult to enforce.

The law uses Penal Code definitions of “coerce,” which includes communicating a threat to expose a person to contempt or ridicule, and of “intoxicated,” which means not having the normal use of mental or physical faculties or having a blood alcohol concentration of 0.08 or more.

SB 38 also expands the definition of an “organization” that can commit hazing to include a student government, a band or musical group, and academic, athletic, cheerleading, or dance teams, including any group that participates in a National Collegiate Athletic Association competition.

Enacted in 1995, the state’s hazing law targets certain behaviors directed against a student for purposes related to membership in an organization. Education Code ch. 37, subch. F makes hazing a student at an educational institution, including a public or private high school, a crime for which a person or an organization can be punished. A person commits a hazing offense if the person engages in hazing; solicits, encourages, aids or attempts to aid another in hazing; recklessly permits hazing to occur; or has firsthand knowledge of the planning of a specific hazing incident or of an incident that has occurred and fails to report it in writing to the appropriate institutional official.

Failing to report is a class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and an optional fine of up to $2,000. Hazing that causes serious bodily injury is a class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to one year in jail and an optional fine of up to $4,000. Hazing that causes a person’s death is a state jail felony, punishable by 180 days to two years in a state jail and an optional fine of up to $10,000.

An organization commits hazing if it condones or encourages hazing or if an officer or any combination of members, pledges, or alumni commits or assists in the hazing. An organization found to have committed hazing may be fined from $5,000 to $10,000 or up to double the amount of property damage or expenses incurred by an injured person.

New reporting requirements

During testimony on the bill, supporters of SB 38 said they could find no examples of individuals or organizations being criminally charged with hazing in recent years. Hazing incidents often are subject to disciplinary action by institutions of higher education according to internal policies and student conduct codes.

Under the new law, each public and private postsecondary educational institution must post a report on its website by January 1, 2020, detailing convictions and disciplinary actions taken by the institution against any organizations for hazing during the preceding three years. The report must name the organization disciplined or convicted and describe the incident and findings of the institution or court. It may not include personally identifiable student information. Students attending an institution’s orientation must be told about the report and where to find it online.

The new law also addresses when a person who reports a specific hazing incident is immune from prosecution or civil liability under the hazing law. To be immune, the person must report the incident voluntarily before being contacted by an educational institution and must cooperate throughout any institutional investigation. Immunity does not apply to persons who report their own act of hazing or report an incident in bad faith or with malice.

The lieutenant governor has charged the Senate Criminal Justice Committee with monitoring the implementation of SB 38 and recommending any needed improvements to the law.

By Janet Elliott

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