(The Center Square) – Gov. Jay Inslee signed a bill into law on Monday afternoon that strengthens anti-hazing laws in Washington state.
House Bill 1002 increases penalties from a misdemeanor to a felony for the most serious forms of hazing, the imposition of strenuous – often humiliating – tasks as part of a program of rigorous physical training or initiation.
“Known as the ‘Sam Martinez Stop Hazing Law,’ this bill recognizes the death of a Washington State University student and reflects the inherent danger of hazing rituals that can pressure college students to consume large amounts of alcohol,” Inslee said just before signing the bill into law. “This will improve accountability for those who organize hazing rituals at fraternities and sororities and establish a new and much needed culture where students understand that hazing is absolutely unacceptable.”
WSU freshman Sam Martinez of Bellevue died of acute alcohol poisoning in 2019 after a night of hazing at a fraternity function at the school called “Big-Little Night.” Fifteen members of the fraternity were charged with misdemeanors for supplying alcohol to a minor.
Members of the Martinez family, who have pushed lawmakers to strengthen laws against hazing, attended the bill-signing ceremony at the governor’s conference room at the Capitol Campus in Olympia.
“That feels so incredible to me to be able to say that Washington is sending a clear message that we have no tolerance for hazing and we actually mean that,” Jolayne Houtaz, Martinez’s mom, told KING 5 News prior to the signing of the bill. “We’re going to put some teeth behind that.”
HB 1002 makes hazing a gross misdemeanor instead of misdemeanor. A misdemeanor is punishable by up to 90 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000, while a gross misdemeanor is punishable by up to 364 days in jail and a fine of up to $5,000.
Per the law, in incidents where someone is killed or suffers “substantial bodily harm,” hazing could be charged as a felony.
Felony crimes are much more serious than misdemeanors and include offenses such as rape, armed robbery, burglary, the sale and distribution of illegal drugs, and murder. As such, punishments for felonies are more severe than those for misdemeanors and gross misdemeanors.
HB 1002 unanimously passed the House of Representatives on March 1, and the Senate unanimously approved it on April 6.
This is the second anti-hazing law the Martinez family has advocated for. In 2022, the Legislature passed House Bill 1751 that requires universities to publicly report hazing violations, as well as providing hazing education for students.