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Secretary of Higher Education urges lawmakers to consider anti-hazing legislation as a public safety issue

FILE -Former New Mexico State NCAA college basketball player Shak Odunewu speaks at a news conference in Las Cruces, N.M., Wednesday, May 3, 2023. Odunewu and former Aggie player Deuce Benjamin, who said they were sexually assaulted by teammates, spoke today about the deep impact their time at the Las Cruces school had on them. Shak Odunewu and Deuce Benjamin, the former New Mexico State basketball players who filed a lawsuit alleging they were ganged up on and sexually assaulted by teammates have settled the case, one of their attorneys said Tuesday, June 27, 2023. (AP Photo/Andres Leighton, File)
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Anti-hazing legislation proposed after NMSU hazing scandal

Last year, three New Mexico State University basketball players were charged with felony sex crimes for hazing teammates. As a result, New Mexico lawmakers are considering making hazing a crime.

New Mexico is just one of six states that doesn’t have this type of legislation on the books.

House Bill 225 would make hazing at higher education institutions a misdemeanor or felony charge.

Higher Education Secretary Stephanie Rodriguez said that hazing is a public safety issue and this bill is a step in the right direction. It would define hazing, create a statewide reporting portal, and train higher education institutions on prevention methods.

"Anything you’re doing to force onto another person that makes them feel uncomfortable, you don’t have consent to do is a form of hazing in New Mexico if this law passes" said Rodriguez.

Rodriguez admitted she’s disappointed with the hesitation she’s seeing from some lawmakers who are concerned about interfering with the choices that adults are making in higher education institutions.

"This is something that’s impacting our community. We saw what happened at New Mexico State University and it is our job as a state to prevent this from happening to others" Rodriguez said.

If signed into law, portions of the bill could be implemented as soon as July, however, the portal wouldn’t be up and running until 2025.

While the portal would be housed at the Higher Education Department, Rodriguez said they would also have partnerships with the Department of Public Safety and the Human Services Department. It would be up to investigators and local district attorneys to determine the severity of cases and how to move forward in charging individuals.

The bill is now in the House Judiciary Committee but has not been scheduled for a hearing. Another anti-hazing bill is in the Senate Judiciary Committee but has not been heard yet.

This coverage is made possible by the W.K. Kellogg Foundation and KUNM listeners.

Taylor is a reporter with our Poverty and Public Health project. She is a lover of books and a proud dog mom. She's been published in Albuquerque The Magazine several times and enjoys writing about politics and travel.