Kentucky lawmakers pass bill to make hazing a crime

FRANKFORT, Ky. (AP) — Kentucky lawmakers passed a bill Thursday aimed at creating new crimes to punish hazing, responding to calls for action following a university student’s death.

The Senate voted 30-4 for final passage, sending the measure to Gov. Andy Beshear.

“For far too long, hazing has been this awkward right of passage in Kentucky that many still refuse to acknowledge was wrong,” said Republican Sen. Robby Mills, the bill’s lead sponsor. Mills represents the Senate’s fourth district, which includes Henderson, Union, Webster, Webster and Hopkins counties. 

The bill’s passage came at the start of a full day of votes on stacks of legislation. It was the final day before lawmakers begin an extended break to give the governor time to consider signing or vetoing the bills sent to him. Lawmakers will reconvene at the end of March for the final two days of the session.

The anti-hazing bill would create a felony crime for hazing that results in the death or serious injury of a student. The offense would be punishable by up to five years in prison. Also under the bill, someone accused of recklessly engaging in hazing would face a misdemeanor charge, punishable by up to a year in jail.

“Our intent is to save lives,” Republican Rep. Jonathan Dixon said as the House debated the bill Wednesday. Dixon represents the House’s 11th district in Henderson County. 

The House passed the measure — Senate Bill 9 — on a 96-3 vote after making a few changes. The Senate accepted those changes Thursday during the final action that sent the bill to the governor.

Supporters of the bill include the family of Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, a University of Kentucky student who died in 2021 at age 18. Tracey Hazelwood, the student’s mother, told lawmakers that after he pledged to a fraternity, her son had to participate in illegal acts that “could have got him kicked out of school” in order to belong to the fraternity, the Lexington Herald-Leader reported. On the night he died of alcohol poisoning his blood alcohol concentration was 0.354, well over the legal limit for adults to drive, she said.

Elevating hazing to a crime deals “head on the seriousness of these actions,” Mills said while presenting the bill to a House committee Wednesday.

“It lets students know that Kentucky values student safety and violations of their safety will be addressed,” he said.

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