Florida Senate joins House in holding more people accountable when hazing turns tragic

Florida Senate joins House in holding more people accountable when hazing turns tragic

The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity house is seen near Florida State University in Tallahassee, Fla., Tuesday, Nov. 7, 2017. Joseph Reedy AP

The Florida Senate passed an anti-hazing bill Thursday that strengthens state laws outlining consequences for university fraternity and sorority leaders who run potentially deadly initiation rites. It also provides immunity for the first person who provides aid.

The Senate 1080 bill is named “Andrew’s Law,” after Andrew Coffey, a 20-year-old Florida State University Pi Kappa Phi pledge who died in an off-campus apartment in November 2017 after drinking a bottle of Wild Turkey bourbon during a hazing event dubbed “the family bottle.”

SB 1080 was passed 40-0 and now goes before Gov. Ron DeSantis for his signature to become law.

The anti-hazing bill was written by David W. Bianchi and Michael Levine from the Miami firm Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain that represented Coffey’s parents, Tom and Sandy Coffey.

The bill was supported and sponsored by Sen. Lauren Book (D-Plantation) and a similar bill (HB 727) by Rep. Chip LaMarca (R-Lighthouse Point) was passed by the Florida House of Representatives in March.

If signed, this would replace “the Chad Meredith Act,” which was signed into law by Gov. Jeb Bush in 2005. Bianchi was one of the attorneys who helped design the Meredith act.

Meredith was a University of Miami student who drowned in 2001 after drinking and swimming across the Coral Gables campus’s Lake Osceola with two officers of the Kappa Sigma fraternity he was pledging.

The “Chad Meredith Act” made hazing a third-degree felony if it results in a serious injury or a death and was one of the first laws nationwide to make a hazing-related outcome like that one a felony rather than a misdemeanor.

“Andrew’s Law” says that fraternity and sorority leaders who plan the hazing event would still be liable if someone is seriously hurt or killed — even if they don’t attend.

SB 1080 also provides “immunity from prosecution” if “certain conditions are met. These can include that the first person who calls 911 to summon help for a hazing victim and anyone administering aid to the victim while waiting for help to arrive will not be prosecuted under the hazing statute.

“We know we need to make our good law even better,” Bianchi said during his testimony before the Florida Senate Criminal Justice Committee in March during the one of the bill’s first legislative hearings.

“Our changes to the anti-hazing statute should incentivize young men and women to call for help as soon as they see that someone has been injured or harmed by hazing. It would also hold accountable the leaders and officers of fraternities and sororities who put together events where hazing occurs,” Stewart Tilghman Fox Bianchi & Cain wrote on its website in April.

Florida State University’s medical amnesty policy was in effect at the time of Coffey’s death, the Tallahassee Democrat reported in March. But SB 1080’s language makes it part of state law.

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Dan Boone