More than a year after a Florida State University fraternity pledge died, lawmakers are considering expanding the state’s anti-hazing laws to include the prosecution of people involved in planning acts of hazing.
One of those proposals (SB 1080) was approved by its first Senate committee Monday. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee advanced the bill, which would also provide immunity to the first person who calls 911 when a hazing victim is in need of medical care.
Sen. Lauren Book, D-Plantation, is spearheading the effort in the Senate with the backing of the parents of Andrew Coffey, who died after drinking a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon that had been taped to his hand at a Pi Kappa Phi party.
Andrew’s parents, Tom and Sandy Coffey, on Monday pleaded with senators to hold leaders and members of organizations accountable by strengthening the state’s hazing criminal statutes.
“Put people on notice so that they can’t just do whatever they want to do without any type of consequence,” Tom Coffey said while holding back tears. “We are doing this for all the other kids. We never, ever, ever, ever want to see this repeated again.”
Under current law, a person who intentionally hazes someone, resulting in serious bodily injury or death, faces a third-degree felony charge. The proposal would add a permanent injury to the list.
Hazing includes forcing someone to drink alcohol or take drugs, sleep deprivation, whipping, branding or forcing someone to go through what could result from “extreme embarrassment.”
If Book’s measure is approved, prosecutors would be able to charge people who knew about hazing plans or recruited people to participate in the hazing. Under the proposal, a person would need to cooperate with authorities after calling 911 to receive immunity from hazing charges.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, supported the proposal and asked Book to match the provision in her anti-hazing law with the Good Samaritan law, which gives legal protection to people who assist someone who is in danger.
“The goal here is to save lives,” Brandes said.
Coffey’s death led FSU to suspend Greek life and consider reforms to combat dangerous drinking at the university.
FSU spokeswoman Browning Brooks issued a statement Monday that said the university backs tougher laws to address hazing.
“Florida State fully supports strengthening anti-hazing laws, and this is consistent with the university’s many efforts to prevent such tragedies in the future,” the statement said.
David Bianchi, an attorney representing the Coffey family, told senators that more needs to be done to expand the state’s anti-hazing laws, which he said have not been changed in 17 years.
“We know we need to make this good law even better,” Bianchi said.
Bianchi also shared the story of another FSU fraternity pledge, Nicholas Mauricio, who suffered a brain injury after being punched in the face during a “Scumbag of the Week” event. The 20-year-old sued Alpha Epsilon Pi for negligence.
The Senate measure needs approval from the Education and Appropriations committees before it could get a full vote on the Senate floor. A similar proposal (HB 727) was considered for the first time Tuesday in the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.
Ana Ceballos reports for the News Service of Florida.