ATLANTA (AP) — Georgia lawmakers are again seeking to increase penalties for hazing, seeking to honor a Georgia teen who died from alcohol poisoning after a 2017 incident at a Louisiana State University fraternity.
The Georgia Senate voted 47-0 on Friday for Senate Bill 85, which would make forcing people to participate in hazing a felony when someone is seriously injured, including by alcohol poisoning.
“This bill, the Max Gruver Act, will ultimately save lives and protect our youth," said state Sen. John Albers, a Roswell Republican.
Gruver was a student from Roswell, an Atlanta suburb, who had only been at LSU a month when he died in September 2017. Witnesses said Matthew Naquin singled Gruver out during a hazing ritual at the Phi Delta Theta fraternity house. Naquin, from Fair Oaks Ranch, Texas, ordered Gruver to chug a bottle of 190-proof liquor. Gruver died the following morning. His blood-alcohol level was 0.495%, which is more than six times the legal limit to drive in Louisiana.
Naquin was convicted of negligent homicide and sentenced in November 2019 to five years in prison in connection with Gruver's death. A judge suspended all but two-and-a-half years.
Louisiana made hazing a felony after Gruver died. Albers has been pushing a bill to do the same in Georgia, backed by Gruver's parents, who formed a foundation to fight hazing.
The Georgia proposal would make hazing a felony any time someone who is 17 or older, with an “element of force” makes a someone else participate in a hazing ritual that results in serious injury or death. Incidents resulting in serious injury would be punishable by one to five years in prison, while those resulting in death would be punishable by one to 10 years in prison
Other hazing incidents would be misdemeanors punishable by up to a year in jail. The law would apply to any student organization, not just sororities and fraternities.
Anyone who sees hazing but doesn’t help would be guilty of a misdemeanor, while anyone who offered help or called authorities would be protected from prosecution. Georgia’s attorney general could bring civil lawsuits against adult trustees who knowingly allowed or covered up hazing.
The bill would also require all Georgia colleges and universities to submit an annual report detailing any hazing incidents.
It's the third year Albers has pushed the bill. Last year's bill also passed the state Senate unanimously, but stalled when COVID-19 interrupted the General Assembly.
“This year we can make it the law," Albers said.
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