PHOTO BY ASHLEY WOLF
Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, left, whose son died last fall from hazing, were in the House as it voted Monday on a bill by Rep. Nancy Landry, right, to make hazing a felony.
Louisiana House lawmakers on April 2 unanimously supported a bill that would make hazing a felony.
The “Max Gruver Act,” named after the 18-year-old LSU fraternity pledge who died from alcohol consumption at a fraternity event last fall, would upgrade hazing from a misdemeanor to try to stop the worst abuses.
“This bill will deter, punish, and raise awareness, and that’s what we have criminal statutes for,” bill sponsor Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, said.
The anti-hazing bill passed with a House vote of 87-0. The bill now heads to the Senate for consideration.
Individuals convicted in cases of hazing-related deaths could receive up to five years in prison and fines of up to $10,000. Current law allows those guilty of hazing to receive a fine between $10 to $100 and a maximum 30 days in jail.
The bill provides a clearer definition of hazing so that juries and district attorneys have greater discretion in hazing-related cases.
Landry said the bill would make it “very clear for a student to understand that hazing is against the law, know what hazing is, and know that it is a crime now.”
Maxwell Gruver, an LSU freshman from Roswell, Georgia, died from alcohol intoxication and aspiration after he was summoned to the LSU Phi Delta Theta house by fraternity members to participate in a pledge activity. His autopsy revealed a blood alcohol content of 0.495, almost six times the legal limit for driving.
His parents, Stephen and Rae Ann Gruver, sat alongside the House chamber as Landry presented the bill. Upon its passage, Landry hugged the victim’s parents.
“I think this bill will deter behavior in the future and save lives … so that what happened to their son will never happen again,” Landry said.
“2017 was a very deadly year for hazing,” Landry added. The deaths of four students across the nation drove the conversation about fraternity reform this year. Gruver at LSU, Tim Piazza at Penn State, Andrew Coffey at Florida State and Matthew Ellis at Texas State died in alleged hazing incidents involving coerced alcohol consumption.
If an organization is aware of hazing and fails to report the matter, the organization would face a fine of $10,000 under Landry’s bll.
Rep. Larry Bagley, R-Stonewall, wondered why Louisiana needed more laws regarding hazing and feared that the bill was “overkill.”
“Everybody hazes a little bit,” Bagley said. He pointed out that LSU already had tightened its policies and disciplinary sanctions for hazing.
An East Baton Rouge grand jury recently indicted one of Gruver’s fraternity members for negligent homicide, a felony, and three others on misdemeanor hazing charges. The four charged are no longer students at LSU.