COLUMBUS, Ohio — A bill creating stricter laws around bullying and hazing is close to becoming law, but only if lawmakers act before the end of the legislative session.
House Bill 310, known as Collin's Law, would create a tiered system for hazing charges -- elevating some to felonies and including forced alcohol consumption as hazing, according to Kathleen Wiant.
The legislation is named for 18-year-old Collin Wiant, an Ohio University freshman from suburban Columbus who died in November 2018 during a party at a Sigma Pi Epsilon annex house in Athens, Ohio.
"It's about momentum, and I think coming out of the House, we've got a lot of momentum. But we've got to keep that up because there's, obviously with the pandemic, there's a lot of distractions from a legislative standpoint," said Wade Wiant, Collin's father. "We've got to make sure we get this in front of the governor before they recess for the holidays and start the new legislative year."
Wiant died of asphyxiation from nitrous oxide, likely from cans of "whippits" found in the room on Mill Street, according to court documents.
In a lawsuit filed against the fraternity, Wiant's family argued he'd been hazed by fraternity members before his death. Their attorney said Wiant had been "pelted with eggs, hit with a belt, and repeatedly punched" and forced to drink and do drugs.
Ohio's hazing law has been on the books since 1983. It currently defines hazing as "doing any act or coercing another, including the victim, to do any act of initiation into any student or other organization that causes or creates a substantial risk of causing mental or physical harm to any person."
House Bill 310 sponsor Rep. David Greenspan, R-West Lake, said the bill is one of the most comprehensive laws of its kind in the country. If it passes and is signed by Gov. Mike DeWine, Ohio would be only the 11th state in the country to make hazing a felony charge.
Wiant's parents, Kathleen and Wade, have spent the years since his death and subsequent criminal cases against seven members of the former fraternity speaking to students about hazing dangers.
"It is very difficult, but you know what, I am going to be doing it as long as I can until the day I die," Kathleen said. "Because, if I have any chance of preventing even one family from experiencing this, I will speak the rest of my life to do that."
They work with other victims' families as part of the Anti-Hazing Coalition.
"It's monumental to us that this goes into effect because we know really that it can save kids' lives," Kathleen said.
The Wiants are asking for Ohioans to tell Ohio Senators to pass the bill by contacting them through this form.