When Washington State University freshman Sam Martinez died from alcohol poisoning after a fraternity event in 2019, his parents became determined to prevent similar tragedies.
One of Jolayne Houtz’s and Hector Martinez’s many goals was met Wednesday when Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law the Sam’s Law Act. The measure is named after their son, an Alpha Tau Omega pledge.
While the law will not bring back her son, Houtz said she is confident the act will help prevent other families from facing a similar tragedy.
“Sam’s story will save lives,” Houtz said in an interview.
Sam’s Law Act will expand the definition of hazing and create requirements for colleges to provide hazing education and training to students and employees. It also will require colleges to publicly report findings of misconduct by student groups.
“This bill is a solemn reminder that we can and will do more to educate students on the dangers of hazing,” Inslee said before he signed the bill into law.
The law expands the legal definition of hazing to include harmful acts that take place as part of a person’s continued affiliation with a club, athletic team or living group – current law only covers hazing associated with the initiation process and does not include sports groups. Hazing, on and off campus , will be expressly prohibited in a school’s code of conduct.
Under the law, hazing education will be incorporated into orientation programs all new students are required to attend. Employees will receive annual training on hazing and be required to report suspected incidents if they have reasonable cause to believe such an incident has taken place. Anyone reporting hazing “in good faith” will not be punished for the incident unless they were directly involved.
Houtz said she has wondered what would’ve happened to her son if just one person recognized what was going on and stepped in.
Equipping students with more knowledge on hazing can help students intervene in bad situations and save lives, she said.
With more hazing education for students, “maybe they’ll make a different choice,” she said. “Maybe they will say no. They’ll stop. They’ll help others from harm. They’ll call for help in time.”
Colleges will have to publicly report findings of any kind of misconduct investigation of a student group. National social fraternity and sorority organizations will be required to inform a college when they start operating at the school. If a national organization launches a hazing-related investigation into a local chapter, they must provide findings of that investigation to the school. National organizations also will have to publicly report findings of any kind of misconduct investigation into a local chapter.
Houtz said that she looked into the fraternity chapter her son was pledging but didn’t find anything concerning. It would later be revealed that the chapter had a history so troubling that the national organization had gotten involved and “kicked out nearly half of its members the year before Sam was recruited to join,” she said.
“If I had known that, you bet it would have made a difference,” Houtz said. “Now, other families are going to have access to that information, and I couldn’t be happier about that.”
Additionally, each college would have to create a hazing prevention committee composed of students, faculty and at least one parent or guardian of a student.
The bill passed the House and Senate on unanimous votes. Bill sponsor Rep. Mari Leavitt, D-University Place, previously said the strong support the bill has gotten is a sign that change is needed.
“I think people are just realizing these barbaric acts are just not something that we can accept any longer,” Leavitt said in an interview in February.
Sam’s Law Act is just one effort Martinez’s parents are making to combat hazing. Hector Martinez said this bill is just one step of many to come.
“We know it’s not the end of this journey, but at least we know it’s the end of this bill,” Martinez said when the bill passed the Senate last month. “It’s not easy to do it … but we always think this is what Sam would’ve wanted us to do.”
Houtz and Martinez will continue to advocate for anti-hazing efforts. This past session, they pushed for a bill to increase the penalties associated with hazing. While the bill didn’t make it through the Legislature this year, they plan on trying again next session.
They will work to make sure “that when we say we don’t tolerate hazing in Washington, that there’s some teeth behind that, that we actually mean that and that there are real consequences for those who break the law,” Houtz said.
Houtz said her family is grateful for the support they’ve received in the time following their loss. The support of family and friends, and “hundreds of people coming together from around the state” to advocate for anti-hazing legislation, helped her family get through a tough time and get Sam’s Law Act passed, she said.
“Really from the day that we lost Sam, we had people sort of step up and surround us with love and food and flowers and listening ears and comfort,” Houtz said. “It’s a powerful thing to be able to bring a community together in memory of somebody who meant the world to us.”