Lawmakers gave first-round approval March 2 to a bill that would expand the state’s prohibition on hazing.
Current statute defines hazing as any activity by which a person intentionally or recklessly endangers the physical or mental health or safety of an individual for the purpose of initiation into, admission into, affiliation with or continued membership with any organization. Hazing committed by postsecondary students currently is prohibited.
LB710, introduced by Venango Sen. Dan Hughes, would extend that prohibition to include all primary and secondary school students. Hughes said because most incidents occur off campus, many schools are unsure how to address hazing.
“It is not our intent to bind schools but to make this a criminal penalty that courts can handle because most schools don’t feel they have the authority to handle it,” he said. “[LB710] will reinforce to our young people that this behavior is unacceptable and will not be tolerated.”
The bill would include in the definition of hazing acts of sexual penetration, exposure of genitals, lewd fondling and caressing of another person. A person found to have committed an act of hazing would be guilty of a Class II misdemeanor, which carries a maximum penalty of six months in jail, a $1,000 fine or both.
A Judiciary Committee amendment, adopted 30-0, would expand the hazing definition further to include coercing another person to commit an act of public indecency. It also would add a severability clause, which means that if one part of the bill were declared to be unconstitutional, the declaration would not impact the remaining parts of the bill.
Omaha Sen. Bob Krist supported the bill, saying bullying is a problem that impacts children everywhere.
“Whether it happens in Scottsbluff, Chadron or Omaha, these kinds of situations have to be dealt with in a way that is moral, legal and timely,” Krist said “We can put tools in the right hands of educators, county attorneys and public defenders and fight these kinds of issues at the base level.”
Sen. Rick Kolowski of Omaha also spoke in support of the bill.
“Fostering a positive climate and culture within a school is extremely important,” he said. “We limit ourselves many times as far as our outreach and what we might do to foster positive behavior with our students when we hesitate to act out of fear of the legal implications to our actions.”
The bill advanced to select file on a 31-0 vote.