Referees in Wisconsin currently have no laws protecting them.
Wisconsin lawmakers are looking to change that, proposing a bill that would make it a crime to harass or intimidate a sports official.
The bill has support in the assembly and the senate, while also receiving the backing of the National Association of Sports Officials, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference and the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association.
“Responding to the national crisis as a result of the shortage of amateur and youth sport officials, we applaud and recognize the Wisconsin legislature’s bipartisan efforts to create protections for the men and women that officiate these events,” Dave Anderson, executive director of the WIAA, said in a press release.
Wisconsin isn’t one of the 24 states that currently have assault legislation, civil statutes or supportive resolutions protecting officials, according to the WIAA.
The new bill would make it a Class A misdemeanor to harass, intimidate or assault anyone serving in the role of an official, which could mean up to nine months in jail and/or a $10,000 fine. A judge could also call for up to 40 hours of community service, counseling or anger management classes.
Finding officials has become increasingly difficult in Wisconsin. There were 520 fewer officials in 2017-2018 than in 2016-17, according to WKOW, while the total number has dropped by more than 1,300 since 2003.
The NASO Legislation Scorecard states that 13 percent of officials have been assaulted, while nearly 48 percent of male officials and 45 percent of female officials responded to a survey saying they have felt unsafe in connection with officiating.
“I think it’s a step in the right direction,” longtime referee Jack Fleming said of the proposed bill, according to WISN. “I don’t know if it will totally correct the situation, but I think for a number of reasons we need it.
“We’re having a difficult time recruiting and maintain officials. And I think one of the reasons is some of the harassment or whatever they may receive, and they’ll say after two or three years I don’t want to do this anymore and we lose them.”