Jerry Kopel

This is a morality play, with an innocent victim, a villain, and a heroine.

The innocent victim is SB 106, "Concerning Prohibition of Hazing" introduced by Sen. Terry Phillips, D-Boulder. The villain is Sen. John Andrews, R-Englewood, and the heroine is Rep. Dorothy Gotlieb, R-Denver.

SB 106 was a response to yearly reports of deaths and massive injuries at colleges and universities that resulted from hazing perpetrated at fraternities and sororities.

There were two keys to the original bill. First, the definition of hazing included forced activities such as "whipping, beating, branding, excessive forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, forced consumption of food, beer, liquor, drugs..."

Second, if the forced activity recklessly endangered the emotional or physical health or safety for the purpose of initiation or affiliation, it was hazing "even if the person seeking admission or affiliation willingly participated in the activity."

On the floor of the Senate on Feb. 19th, Sen. Andrews offered a successful amendment changing the "even if the person...willingly participated..." to "except that, when a person over eighteen years of age gives written consent to participation in a specific activity, that activity is not `forced activity'".

I don't know whether Sen. Andrews was ever in a college fraternity or whether he remembered what "forced activities" happened on campus. The youngster who died at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1998 from a required pledge drinking binge at a fraternity would have willingly given "written consent".

He needed a place to stay on campus and wanted to "belong". Anyone who has ever gone to college away from home, set among strangers, willingly joins a group that offers a sort of immunity from loneliness. But the idea of such a person giving LAWFUL written consent to whipping, beating, branding, excessive forced calisthenics, exposure to the elements, or forced consumption of food, beer, liquor, drugs, is beyond any logical explanation.

I recognize that Sen. Andrews is a strong believer in individual responsibilities, but the Senate on SB 106 was simply not paying attention when it voted 27 to 5 to send the amended bill to the House.

Fortunately SB 106, in the hands of Rep. Gotlieb, became a different bill as it emerged from House Judiciary Committee. Gone was the written consent immunizing the fraternity or sorority from excessive injury or death of a pledge. Also gone was the potential reduction of criminal penalty for the perpetrators. The penalty in SB 106 is a Class 3 misdemeanor, which is imprisonment in a county jail for no more than 6 months.

"Whipping, beating, branding" as three examples, constitute assault in the first degree if "under circumstances manifesting extreme indifference to the value of human life" the perpetrator "engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to another person, and thereby causes serious bodily injury to any person..."

Assault in the first degree is a Class 3 felony (four to twelve years in the penitentiary). But in Colorado, if the same criminal act has two separate penalties without any direction from the legislature, the courts have to impose the lesser penalty: In this instance a Class 3 misdemeanor with no more than six months in county jail.

SB 106 also covers what is left in describing hazing by stating "it is not the intent of the General Assembly to change the penalty for any activity that is covered by any other criminal statute." On March 25th the House voted 35 to 27 for the Gotlieb version, 11 Republicans and 24 Democrats for, 27 House Republicans against.

I belonged to fraternities in high school and at the University of Colorado. I wanted to belong and would have signed whatever form was presented to me relating to fraternity "hell week". I was fortunate in both instances in belonging to groups that didn't believe in endangering the health or safety of its pledges. Not every other college fraternity pledge was as fortunate.

The Senate sent the House an ugly duckling. The House sent back to the Senate a reasonably attractive swan.

* * *

Dear Gov. Owens:

There is some unfinished business that your predecessor left behind and I hope that you'll be more receptive than he was during his administration.

It's the Holocaust Memorial that the General Assembly voted to have erected in May of 1985. Sen. Harold McCormick, R-Canon City, and Rep. Chuck Berry, R-Colorado Springs, had introduced Senate Joint Resolution No. 14 "Concerning the Erection of a Monument on the Capitol Grounds Honoring the Victims of the Holocaust."

Sen. McCormick had been contacted at the time by the Holocaust Awareness Institute of the Center for Judaic Studies at the University of Denver. They wished to design and erect a monument to commemorate the victims of the Holocaust.

The resolution asked the legislative leadership and the Administration Department director to meet with the Institute to select a site for the monument. There was no request for funds. Apparently that would have been taken care of by the Institute.

And NOTHING happened. Until 1990. That was when Sen. Sandy Hume, R-Boulder, attempted to resurrect the matter in a letter to me and Gov. Roy Romer. The then-director of the Institute, Dr. Michael Allen, indicated by letter to me they were still interested in establishing the memorial.

However, the governor's office said they were concerned that such a memorial would be a target for vandalism by hate groups, and didn't desire to proceed.

Of course, if terrorism is going to dictate the lifestyles of those who obey the law, such a memorial could always be placed within, rather than outside the capitol building.

We have busts in niches on the first floor of the capitol building: George Brown, Dick Lamm, Roy Romer, and many others. None of them have so far been vandalized. Certainly a niche could be found to house this memorial.

The 1985 resolution has never been repealed. It still needs to be resolved. I know that you will be attending the Governor's Holocaust Remembrance Program at the Auditorium Theatre at the Denver Center for the Performing Arts on Wednesday, April 14th.

What would be more fitting than for you to announce that Colorado would finally move ahead on the memorial project?


Jerry Kopel writes a column for the Stateman based on 22 years past experience as a state legislator.

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