MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — A bill to extend state anti-hazing law to the five WVU fraternities that broke away to form their Independent Fraternity Council met the governor’s veto pen this week.
SB 440 was sponsored by all six Monongalia County senators plus 10 others. It passed the Senate 34-0 and the House 75-22 — opposition there came from both parties. Gov. Jim Justice vetoed it on Wednesday.
Current anti-hazing law applies to “any organization operating under the sanction of or recognized as an organization by an institution of higher education.”
This became a problem in late summer when the five fraternities broke away in September.
Travis Mollohan, WVU’s director of State and Local Relations, told legislators that the bill, which originated out of Morgantown, was drafted at the request of local prosecutors who have no means to prosecute hazing at those organizations under current law.
So SB 440 proposed to change the wording to apply to “any organization whose members include students of an institution of higher education.”
The wording caused some trepidation in the House Judiciary Committee, where Delegate Mike Pushkin voiced the concern that the wording seemed to broad.
It turned out that Justice agreed with him.
Justice said in his veto message: “I applaud the Legislature for tackling the issue of hazing at our universities, however the language included in this bill is overly broad and encompasses numerous organizations outside of the higher education community.”
For example, Justice said, they “could include organizations such as the West Virginia Legislature or the American Civil Liberties Union, if any of their members were enrolled in classes at an institution of higher education in the state.”
Justice encouraged the Legislature to take the bill up again during the 2020 session.
The Dominion Post asked WVU to comment on the veto and whether the university might seek to fix the bill sooner, by asking to have it placed on the call for the special session now under way.
WVU chose not to address a particular timeframe in its emailed reply: “We are pleased that the bill passed the Legislature and that Gov. Justice recognizes the need to tackle instances of hazing. However we understand the governor’s concerns and will be working on this legislation in the future.”
Justice called the current special session to deal with education reform legislation. By law, he determines what bills are on the call.
Senate President Mitch Carmichael, during a phone interview about Pushkin’s bill, HB 2079, said Justice told him he plans to include some other bills on the call that were vetoed for technical reasons, and he believes Justice will include SB 440 on the call.