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Anti-hazing bill inspired by Sam Martinez moves closer to governor’s desk

By Albert James The Spokesman-Review

OLYMPIA – A proposal to bolster efforts to prevent hazing at colleges and universities across Washington passed the state Senate by a unanimous vote on Thursday, putting it one step away from being sent to the governor’s desk.

The bill would create requirements for colleges to provide hazing education and training to students and employees. It would also require colleges to publicly report findings of misconduct by student groups.

Sen. Jeff Holy, R-Cheney, said the bill addresses an issue that is “unavoidable” and has required action for a while.

“The problem is that we have a history of cringeworthy incidents that have led to this piece of legislation – indicating that this piece of legislation has been long overdue,” Holy said during the floor debate.

The bill, amended by the Senate to be called the “Sam’s Law Act,” came about in response to the 2019 death of Washington State University freshman Sam Martinez. Martinez was a pledge of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity when he died of alcohol poisoning after attending a fraternity event.

“A lot of times you’ll have a single incident that’s compelling enough to bring legislation on its own, as in this case,” Holy said.

Jolayne Houtz and Hector Martinez, Sam Martinez’s parents, watched the debate from the Senate gallery. An emotional Lt. Gov. Denny Heck, president of the Senate, welcomed them to the chamber.

“There is no greater burden and no greater pain than that which you have experienced,” Heck said to Houtz and Martinez. “May it be, in time, some very small measure of comfort, that your unbelievable efforts and advocacy in Sam’s passing mean that no other parent has to experience that again.”

Under the bill, college students would receive hazing education as part of their mandatory new student orientation. Employees would receive annual training on hazing and be required to report suspected incidents of hazing if they have reasonable cause to believe such an incident has taken place.

Colleges would be required to publicly report findings of any kind of misconduct investigation of a student group. Social fraternity and sorority organizations would have to inform a college when they launch a hazing-related investigation into a local chapter, and provide findings of that investigation to the school.

Additionally, each college would have to create a hazing prevention committee composed of students, faculty and at least one parent or guardian of a student.

Houtz said hundreds of people all over the state reached out to their legislators and advocated for the bill.

“It’s been so affirming and just humbling to be able to harness that power of the people and bring this to the Legislature and to see it go through almost unanimously – unanimously today,” Houtz told The Spokesman-Review. “I’m thrilled, and I can’t think of a better way to honor our son’s memory.”

Martinez said there is more work ahead in combating hazing, but the bill is a great first step.

“We know it’s not the end of this journey, but at least we know it’s the end of this bill,” Martinez said. “It’s not easy to do it … but we always think this is what Sam would’ve wanted us to do.”

Sen. Emily Randall, D-Bremerton, said the bill will help prevent what happened to Martinez and his family from happening again.

“We are asking our institutions … to create orientation trainings that ensure that students hold each other accountable, to create a reporting structure and to ensure that not one more student faces the same fate as Sam; not one more family is faced to hear the news that Sam’s family did,” Randall said.

The bill passed the state House on a 97-1 vote last month. As the bill was amended to be called the “Sam’s Law Act,” it will have to be sent back to the House to concur with the change.

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