ATLANTA – Hazing at Georgia colleges and universities could draw stiffer penalties in a bill that boosts fines and jail time for students who endanger their peers by forced inebriation, physical threats and violence.
The measure, House Bill 423, stems from the 2017 death of Louisiana State University student Max Gruver, who died from alcohol poisoning after being hazed by members of the Phi Delta Theta fraternity.
Gruver, a 2017 graduate from Blessed Trinity Catholic High School in Roswell, was forced to drink liquor for failing to correctly answer fraternity-related trivia questions. His death led to the arrests of several fraternity members and a felony negligent homicide conviction of the ringleader.
The bill passed Thursday, dubbed the “Max Gruver Act,” would make hazing acts that cause serious bodily injury or death a felony under Georgia law, carrying a prison sentence of between one and five years plus a maximum $50,000 fine.
Sponsored by Sen. John Albers, the tougher hazing penalties would apply for students at all Georgia state, technical, and private universities and colleges.
Albers, R-Roswell, said the proposed would help stave off future deaths resulting from hazing like what happened to Gruver.
“This bill will ultimately save lives,” Albers said from the Senate floor Thursday.
The bill unanimously passed out of the Senate Thursday. It heads to the Georgia House of Representatives.
Beyond felony punishments, the bill would prohibit students from participating in or being subjected to less severe hazing acts in order to join a school organization like fraternities and sororities, sports teams or other clubs.
Those activities could include excessive alcohol consumption, mental torture or physical harm like whipping, beating and paddling. Violators would face a misdemeanor charge carrying a maximum one-year prison sentence and $5,000 fine.
The state Attorney General’s office could further bring charges against organizations that knew dangerous hazing was happening and ignored it. Students and others who sound the alarm or helped break up dangerous hazing activities would be protected from prosecution under the bill, even if they participated in the hazing.
The bill would also require colleges and universities to track annually of all violations of state hazing law and school conduct policies and release those findings in a public report.
Albers reduced some of the hazing penalties after defense attorney representatives raised objections over punishments for casual alcohol use and potentially vague language on what would be a criminal act.
Gruver’s parents attended a Senate committee hearing on the bill earlier this month to show their support for the tougher penalties. His father, Stephen Gruver, called the bill a good example for other states.
“This is one of the strongest and most comprehensive bills in the country,” Gruver said. “It’s going to set the bar for states to follow.”