La. House panel approves harsher penalties for hazing; Max Gruver's parents testify before lawmakers

BATON ROUGE, LA (WAFB) - Months after the death of Max Gruver in an alleged hazing incident at LSU, Louisiana lawmakers are pushing to crack down on hazing.

A House panel approved a measure making the penalties for hazing harsher. Currently, hazing is a misdemeanor. The bill, known as "The Max Gruver Act," would make it a felony.

Gruver's parents testified before the House Committee on Administration of Criminal Justice, asking lawmakers to act. They recounted their son's death through tears. "Now our family is broken. We will never be the same," said Rae Ann Gruver, Max's mom. "Imagine having your child taken away from you. We don't want any other family to live through what we are living through."

In September, Gruver became the victim of an alleged alcohol-fueled hazing ritual while he was rushing Phi Delta Theta at LSU.

Currently in Louisiana, hazing is a misdemeanor. Even if the incident causes injury or death, the perpetrator can only get up to a $100 fine and up to 30 days in jail. The bill would make hazing a felony, allowing for up to a $10,000 fine and up to 5 years behind bars.

"This bill is the deterrent that will make young adults and kids think twice before the participate in an event like hazing. It's exactly what we need," said Stephen Gruver, Max's father.

While district attorneys can pursue other charges, including battery and manslaughter, East Baton Rouge District Attorney Hillar Moore said this bill would streamline it and make it easier for both students and juries to understand. He believes he could have applied this potential statute to the students in the Gruver case. The bill also includes penalties for organizations where leaders knew about hazing, but did nothing to stop it. Originally, the bill called for fines of up to $100,000. That did not sit well with some lawmakers, who worried it could lead to bankruptcy.

"If a particular judge wanted to issue that fine, it would pretty much shut down that organization," said Rep. C. Denise Marcelle, D-Baton Rouge.

Lawmakers ultimately voted to reduce that penalty to no more than $10,000. Moore expressed frustration at this. "A $10,000 fine for a large corporate entity is zero, it's nothing. A slap on the wrist, it's a joke," he said.

Lawmakers also changed the bill so that universities would be liable, meaning if leaders knew about hazing, the school could face fines. It's also not just applicable to fraternities and sororities. It applies all student organizations, including bands and sports teams.

The Gruvers are hopeful the measure will soon become their son's lasting legacy. "We hope he's proud of us, and we'd do anything for him," said Rae Ann Gruver. "If this is what we can do to make what happened to Max make something better, then we'll do whatever we have to."

The bill now heads to the full House for consideration. Lawmakers are confident it can make it to the governor's desk. The bill advanced through House committee the same day LSU banned Phi Delta Theta from the campus.

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