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New Hazing Bill Brought to Floor of Florida Senate

The new hazing legislation drafted by Attorneys David Bianchi and Michael Levine from our firm was officially brought to the floor of the Florida Senate today. Sponsored by Senator Lauren Book, the bill was brought to the floor for its second reading. No amendments were requested to the bill and there was no opposition.

The second reading is the second of three steps a bill must take before becoming law. A first reading puts the bill before all relevant committees. We reported on those hearings in a previous blog from early March. The bill received unanimous support from various House and Senate committees, allowing it to go to the floor for a second reading, where representatives could request amendments.

As there were no amendments added to the bill, it will now proceed to the third reading next week, after which the Senate will hopefully vote to pass it. While that is going on, the House of Representatives will also be considering the bill. Over the past month various House committees have also voted on the bill and, like the Senate, have all passed it out unanimously. We are grateful for Representative Chip LaMarca who is the House sponsor of this legislation and has been working hard to get it passed.

Toughening the Chad Meredith Act for a New Generation

In 2005, Governor Jeb Bush signed the Chad Meredith Act into law on the campus of the University of Miami where Chad died in a fraternity hazing event. The law was the first of its kind in Florida, allowing prosecutors to try hazing crimes as a third-degree felony when they cause death or serious injury. Chad’s parents were represented by Attorney David Bianchi from our firm who obtained the largest fraternity hazing verdict in the country in that case. Today, many years later, we are hard at work to make this good law even better with the bill that our lawyers drafted and is currently working its way through the Florida legislature.

Our changes to the anti-hazing statute would 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, regardless of whether the leadership is actually present when the hazing occurs. These changes have been proposed in the new legislation as a result of our two recent cases involving the death of Andrew Coffey, an FSU student who died in November 2017 of acute alcohol poisoning in a hazing ritual and the brain injury sustained by Nicholas Mauricio in a hazing event at FSU.

"Dozens of people saw Andrew Coffey’s extreme condition, but no one called for help," Senator Lauren Book said in her remarks on the Senate floor this morning. "Instead, they let him lay on the couch to sleep it off. By 9 AM the next morning, he was found unresponsive. He was pronounced dead shortly thereafter."

When Andrew died, it took 11 minutes for his fellow fraternity pledges to call for help. During those minutes, the fraternity members called each other to figure out what they were going to do. It's this culture of secrecy and fear that our law would address; by giving immunity to the first person to call 911 on behalf of a hazing victim as well as administering aid to the victim at the time of the call, we're ensuring that students harmed by hazing will get medical care far sooner. “These changes to Florida’s hazing statute will save lives and reduce the likelihood of serious injuries,” Bianchi said.

Our firm is grateful for the hard work of Senator Book and Representative Chip La Marca whose sponsorship and advocacy of this bill has been invaluable in helping to get it passed. . We look forward to seeing the bill become state law in the coming months.