Senate Bill 38, enacted by the Texas Legislature this session, expands the scope and definition of hazing. Texas Education Code § 37.152 makes it unlawful to (1) engage in hazing; (2) solicit, encourage, direct, aid, or attempt to aid another in engaging in hazing; (3) recklessly permit hazing to occur; or (4) have firsthand knowledge of hazing, and knowingly fail to report that knowledge to the dean of students or other appropriate official of the institution.
“Hazing” is defined as any intentional, knowing, or reckless act, occurring on or off the campus of an educational institution, by one person alone or acting with others, directed against a student for the purpose of pledging, being initiated into, affiliating with, holding office in, or maintaining membership in an organization if the act:
- is any type of physical brutality, such as whipping, beating, striking, branding, electronic shocking, placing of a harmful substance on the body, or similar activity;
- involves sleep deprivation, exposure to the elements, confinement in a small space, calisthenics, or other similar activity that subjects the student to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the mental or physical health or safety of the student;
- involves consumption of a food, liquid, alcoholic beverage, liquor, drug, or other substance that subjects the student to an unreasonable risk of harm or that adversely affects the mental or physical health or safety of the student;
- is any activity that induces, causes, or requires the student to perform a duty or task that involves a violation of the Penal Code; or involves coercing, as defined by Penal Code § 1.07, Penal Code, the student to consume: (1) a drug; or (2) an alcoholic beverage or liquor in an amount that would lead a reasonable person to believe that the student is intoxicated, as defined by Penal Code § 49.01.
An “organization” includes, not only a fraternity, sorority, association, corporation, order, society, corps, club, but now also a student government, a band or musical group or an academic, athletic, cheerleading, or dance team, including any group or team that participates in National Collegiate Athletic Association competition, or a service, social, or similar group, whose members are primarily students.
Senate Bill 38 has also expanded immunity for reporting hazing incidents. Texas Education Code 37.155 provides that, in the prosecution of a hazing offense, the court may grant immunity from prosecution for the offense to each person who is subpoenaed to testify for the prosecution and who does testify for the prosecution.
Immunity from criminal and civil liability is available to any person who voluntarily reports a specific hazing incident involving a student in an educational institution to the dean of students or other appropriate official of the institution. For immunity to apply, the person making the report must (1) report the incident before being contacted by the institution concerning the incident or otherwise being included in the institution’s investigation of the incident; and (2) as determined by the appropriate official of the institution, cooperates in good faith throughout any institutional process regarding the incident.
Immunity does not apply if the person reports the person’s own act of hazing or reports an incident of hazing in bad faith or with malice. Hazing can range from a Class B misdemeanor to a state jail felony, depending on the injury caused during the incident. The offense of failing to report is a Class B misdemeanor.