Collin’s Law, which originally passed the House of Representatives during the previous legislative session, was reintroduced into the Ohio Legislature in early March following the death of Bowling Green State University student Stone Foltz from an alleged hazing incident.
The law honors former Ohio University student Collin Wiant, who died of asphyxiation at the Sigma Pi annex house in 2018, and would increase hazing penalties in Ohio from a misdemeanor to a felony charge.
State Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, drafted the bill last year. The bill will be carried by State Sen. Stephanie Kunze.
“I'm a supporter of the bill. I actually drafted the bill,” Edwards said. “I couldn't carry the bill because I was in the leadership last year, but it's my understanding Stephanie Kunze in the Senate is going to carry the bill, the same language that I drafted last year.”
Current Ohio law defines hazing as “doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person.”
Under this definition, hazing is penalized as a fourth-degree misdemeanor. Collin’s mother, Kathleen Wiant, said this is the same level of punishment as a traffic ticket.
“So right now, in the state of Ohio, hazing is a fourth-degree misdemeanor,” Kathleen Wiant said. “So, that is the equivalent of not paying your parking ticket in the state of Ohio. So, with the new laws, hazing will become a felony.”
Edwards said the current laws against hazing are vague, but Collin’s Law will add and define different levels of hazing.
“There is a hazing defined in the revised code, but it's my belief that it is very vague, and it doesn't hold a stiff enough penalty,” Edwards said. “(Collin’s Law) creates new statutes that creates different levels of hazing and different criminal prosecutions of hazing and what those penalties may be.”
Edwards said the current hazing law in Ohio allows for discrepancies in the system, which Collin’s Law will hopefully improve.
“The current law has a lot of loopholes because what’s considered hazing … The statute is very vague,” Edwards said. “It creates a very low barrier for criminal penalty on what is defined as hazing.”
Other states have passed similar laws that increase the penalty for hazing.
“I believe there are 44 states that have hazing laws,” Kathleen Wiant said. “So, we are one of those states that have hazing laws. It's a felony in approximately 11 states, and most of those are only because a student died from hazing.”
Kathleen Wiant said Ohio will be a leader in anti-hazing across the country with Collin’s Law.
“We really feel like the legislation we have can make Ohio a leader in anti-hazing across the country because we have the transparency piece,” Kathleen Wiant said. “We have the education piece so students who are looking to join an organization, or who are looking to recruit new members, will undergo anti-hazing education.”
In addition, Kathleen Wiant said each university in Ohio will have websites for their organizations that state whether they have had hazing charges against them.
Athens Mayor Steve Patterson said this law will help universities across Ohio put an end to hazing deaths.
“It's all colleges and universities that this would apply to,” Patterson said. “Hopefully, it will put an end to these tragedies that are occurring.”
Press Secretary for Gov. Mike DeWine Dan Tierney said the governor is also in favor of Collin’s Law being passed, along with all legislative action against hazing.
Edwards said he has been working with the Wiant family to get Collin’s Law passed and to ensure people are being held accountable for their actions.
“We hear a lot of heart-wrenching stories in the legislature,” Edwards said. “But you really can't do something without unintended consequences. However, in this case, it's actually a prime example of where the legislature should step in and pass this bill and … create some sort of way for people to be held accountable for hazing.”