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Hazing becomes a felony in some cases in Washington state

KTVZ News Team

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has signed a bill that strengthens state laws against hazing.

The “Sam Martinez Stop Hazing Law,” was signed Monday, The Seattle Times reported. The Legislature unanimously passed the measure.

The law makes hazing a gross misdemeanor instead of a misdemeanor and if it results in substantial bodily harm, it rises to a felony.

Inslee said at the signing Monday that the bill recognizes the death of a Washington State University student and reflects the inherent danger of hazing rituals that can pressure students to consume large amounts of alcohol.

“This will improve accountability for those who organize hazing rituals at fraternities and sororities and establish a new and much needed culture where students understand that hazing is absolutely unacceptable,” Inslee said.

Sam Martinez died after attending an Alpha Tau Omega fraternity chapter event at the university in Pullman in 2019. The Whitman County Medical Examiner ruled his death an accident by alcohol poisoning.

His parents have been advocating for changes ever since.

“Nobody sends their child to college to be hazed,” Jolayne Houtz, Martinez’s mother, told a legislative committee earlier this year.

More than a dozen people were charged in Martinez’s death, most with furnishing alcohol to a minor. The statute of limitations on the state’s hazing law had expired by the time a prosecutor was ready to charge those involved.

The new law also extends the statute of limitations from one year to two years.

“The one who gave Sam a half-gallon bottle of rum and told him to drink the family drink,” Houtz said earlier this year, “he served just 19 days in jail. One day for each year of Sam’s life.”

The new legislation follows the passage of “Sam’s Law” in 2021, which updated the definition of hazing and required universities and colleges, as well as fraternity and sorority chapters, to make hazing investigation records public.

Since the passing of Sam’s Law, WSU has required all first-year students and staff to complete anti-hazing training. The university suspended the fraternity until 2026.

Article Topic Follows: AP Idaho

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