Parents of Sam Martinez testify about anti-hazing bills to state legislature

House Bills 1751, 1758 would require universities to report hazing incidents, increase criminal penalties



Sam Martinez died Nov. 12, 2019, after participating in a “Big-Little reveal night” with members of the Alpha Tau Omega fraternity.

KASSANDRA VOGEL, Evergreen reporter

Jolayne Houtz and Hector Martinez lost their son, WSU freshman Sam Martinez, to hazing on Nov. 12, 2019. Now, they are advocating for legislation in hope that no parent loses a child in the same way. 

On Jan. 13, Houtz and Martinez testified to the state legislature urging them to support House Bills 1751 and 1758, which would create clearer guidelines and more transparency around hazing at public institutions like WSU. 

Washington’s laws around hazing have not been updated since 1993, Houtz said. 

The world has changed a lot in that time, and this is a good moment to introduce a package of reforms that are long overdue, she said. 

Bill 1751 is focused on hazing prevention and reduction and includes a more complete definition of hazing than previous laws. The bill would also require that students receive hazing education and that universities publicly report all incidents of hazing.

If the bill passes, public institutions would be required to maintain a website that would make students and families aware of offenses relating to hazing, alcohol, drugs, and both sexual and physical assault. 

Bill 1758 focuses on increasing penalties for hazing by changing it to a gross misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison. Hazing that results in serious bodily harm could lead to a class C felony, which could result in up to five years in prison.

“Parents and students absolutely need accurate and timely information in order to make smart decisions,” Houtz said. “Right now, it’s a kind of a black box. It’s very difficult, if not impossible to get information about what fraternities, sororities and other student groups are doing in terms of their disciplinary track record.” 

Houtz said she also thinks it is unfair for student organizations to be penalized because of bad actors. Groups that are very positive for students should not have their reputations tarred because of those that are not.  

In the fall, the family started working with Rep. Mari Leavitt and Rep. Tana Senn for this legislation. Houtz said the family has looked for ways to channel their pain into some kind of purpose — trying to make something good come out of such a terrible tragedy. 

“The biggest goal for us is to try to save a life for the one that was taken from us. That’s our top priority,” Houtz said. 

She said last week’s hearing was quite extraordinary. Houtz and Martinez felt lifted up by the support from their broad network of friends, family and supporters, with nearly 170 people signed in as supporters of the legislation during the hearing, she said. 

Advocacy from students on this issue will be critical, Houtz said. Several students testified at the hearing, which is powerful for lawmakers to hear, but there are a lot of other ways to get involved. 

Those who want to show support for the bill can submit a written set of comments or a letter to the lawmakers. People can also sign in when there is a hearing on the bill to register their support, which takes about two minutes, Houtz said. 

Gisselle Salazar, ASWSU director of legislative affairs, said she is glad there is more advocacy for this issue because these bills will work to prohibit any hazing in institutions of higher education. 

Sam always stuck up for the underdog in any situation. He did not tolerate bullies, Houtz said. She likes to think that he is with them and smiling at them as they go through this process.

“I hope that we can pass this legislation as a tribute to Sam and a way to honor his memory, to make a change in his name,” Houtz said. “He was so loyal to his friends and such a support for those in trouble. I just know that he would never want anything like this to happen to anyone.” 

A death from hazing is the ultimate tragic outcome, but there are lots of things short of it that affect young people. While these other hazing incidents may cause serious mental and physical injuries, they go under-reported, Houtz said. 

Oftentimes we only think certain things fall into hazing when it could just be more about verbal abuse, or something less severe, Salazar said. 

“It’s time to talk about this and bring it into the open, stating clearly that this is not acceptable,” Houtz said. 

Houtz said that she and her husband feel strongly about serving as advocates for hazing prevention, and they plan to continue to be active. 

Right now, Houtz said she knows there is a lot more to do. She looks forward to having more conversations about this issue and wants to work with the key stakeholders to pass House Bills 1751 and 1758 to protect students from hazing.