AUSTIN — With anti-hazing legislation apparently stalled in a Texas House committee, senators Tuesday adopted a resolution commemorating victims of a persistent practice on college campuses that sometimes turns fatal.
Relatives and friends of two college students who died in connection with activities that involved hazing stood in an honored position at the front of the Senate chamber as one senator after another expressed condolences and pledged to enact reforms.
“I can’t imagine the pain of a parent,” said Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock. “The loss is in perpetuity.”
“It’s a senseless loss of life, absolutely senseless,” said Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, who presides over the Senate.
There no doubt was a political calculation to the moment. Senate Bill 38, authored by Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, passed the upper chamber April 11 by a vote of 26-5. After clearing the House Higher Education Committee, it has been sitting in the House Calendars Committee since the end of April. Next Tuesday is the last day that the full House can take up a Senate bill. Zaffirini also was the author of Senate Resolution 738, which passed unanimously. The unmistakable signal: The Senate wants SB 38 to become law.
Jay Maguire, founder of the nonprofit group Parents and Alumni for Student Safety, told the American-Statesman that Gov. Greg Abbott’s office has expressed concern that the measure could overcriminalize low-level hazing behaviors. The bill would add coerced consumption of alcohol or drugs to the definition of hazing, which has rarely been prosecuted since it was made a misdemeanor under state law in 1995.
The Republican governor’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston, said family members of hazing victims have been “asking, begging the Legislature” for years to toughen the law. “And we haven’t done much, to be honest,” she said. “Forcing a young person to chug half a bottle of liquor or a full bottle of liquor — there should be criminal consequences for that.”
Debbie Debrick, mother of Dalton Debrick, a Texas Tech University freshman who died in 2014 at the age of 18 from alcohol poisoning suffered at an Alpha Sigma Phi party, was among those recognized in the Senate chamber. “I’m optimistic,” she said later of SB 38′s prospects. “Why would you not vote for something that would save young lives?”
With her in the chamber for the resolution were Devon Debrick, brother of Dalton, and Nick Menchaca, Dalton’s best friend.
Also attending were Clio Harralson, girlfriend of Nicholas Cumberland, a University of Texas junior who died last year from injuries sustained in a rollover wreck on the way back from a hazing-infused retreat of the Texas Cowboys spirit group, and Graham Smith, Cumberland’s roommate when they studied in Argentina.
The Senate resolution also took note of the deaths of Matthew Ellis of Texas State University and Joseph Little of Texas A&M University. Ellis, a 20-year-old pledge of Phi Kappa Psi, died in 2017 with a high blood alcohol level after he was given a bottle of liquor in a fraternity tradition. Little, a freshman at A&M, died in 2018 after seizures triggered by snorting a drug used to treat attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. Before suffering the seizures at home, he reportedly had been standing for hours in the summer heat wearing a suit and tie at a Phi Gamma Delta event.