Beshear signs Lofton’s Law, criminalizing hazing

By: - March 27, 2023 4:45 pm

Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood (Photo provided by Tracey Hazelwood)

Hazing that causes death or serious injury can be prosecuted as a felony in Kentucky under a bill that Gov. Andy Beshear signed Monday.

Senate Bill 9, also known as Lofton’s Law, defines hazing in Kentucky statute and establishes penalties for the behavior. Hazing that leads to injury or death is a Class D felony, and reckless participation is now a Class A misdemeanor. 

Lofton’s Law was created in honor of Thomas “Lofton” Hazelwood, an 18-year-old University of Kentucky freshman who died from alcohol poisoning in 2021. Lawmakers gave the bill final passage on March 15.  

Beshear’s signature makes Kentucky the 14th state to classify hazing as a felony. 

“Signing this bill is the right thing to do,” Beshear said in a news conference. “As a father of two middle schoolers, I cannot imagine what (Lofton’s family) have had to go through.” 

Beshear was joined by Lofton’s parents, Tracey and Kirk Hazelwood, and other supporters of the law.  

“We want to thank everybody who has helped us through this journey,” Tracey Hazelwood said. “It’s a phone call no one wants to get, and we hope that this never happens to anyone again.”

Tracey detailed how the idea for the bill started in her children’s junior high school. The Hazelwood family has worked tirelessly to lobby the legislature and share Lofton’s story to students.

“The driving force behind this legislation is Lofton’s parents,” said Sen. Robby Mills, R-Henderson, the main sponsor.  “Children and young people that go to college should have the ability to have a great time … and not have the fear of hazing that has been so prevalent over the last few years.”

Since 2021, four Kentucky universities have tracked 25 incidents of hazing. A 2008 study from the University of Maine found that 95% of recognized hazing cases go unreported. 

In the  new statute, hazing is defined as a direct action that “substantially endangers the physical health of a minor or student for the purpose of recruitment, initiation into, affiliation with, or enhancing or maintaining member or status within any organization.” It includes acts like forced violation of the law, consumption of controlled substances and physical or sexual brutality. 

Depending on the charge, offenders could be punished with up to five years in prison.

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Mariah P. Kendell
Mariah P. Kendell

Mariah Kendell is a Kentucky Lantern reporter intern and a senior journalism and political science student at the University of Kentucky. Kendell’s love for journalism sprouted from an early interest in federal and state politics. She has interned in the U.S. House of Representatives, the U.S. Department of Commerce and the University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information. She is a native of Elizabethtown.