Kansas House Considers Bill Aimed at Protecting Officials From Abuse

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New legislation being considered by the Kansas House Committee of Education aims to protect youth and college sports officials from abusive fans with stiff legal penalties. 

House Bill 2139 would make abuse — verbal or physical — of any sports official a Class B misdemeanor. The offense would carry a fine of up to $1,000 and/or up to six months in jail. Any harassment against a minor sports official would increase that penalty up to a Class A misdemeanor and would be punishable by a fine of up to $2,500 and/or up to a year in jail. 

John Dehan, owner of the Call the Game officiating organization in eastern Kansas, testified before the Education Committee last week in favor of the new law. 

"This bill sends the proper message of support for those who adjudicate school events," Dehane said, according to prepared remarks. "Following a review of identified consequences, we urge you to support this bill by moving it to the next level of approval."

Dehan noted in his comments to the committee that compared to 10 years ago there are 1,365 fewer officials in Kansas, reflecting a 22.7 percent reduction in the officiating pool. 

"Some activities are more pronounced, especially those indoor activities whose fans are in close proximity to the officials," Dehan noted. "Notably, registered basketball officials have reduced by 656 officials (30.9%) and wrestling by 76 officials (26.1%)."

Dehan said the main concern lies in the severity of the response compared to the offense, but suggested this could be solved through language that would differentiate between verbal and physical assaults.

At present the bill is aimed at protecting officials at all levels of play, but Dehan said he and other officials would be fine narrowing the scope of the bill to just youth and high-school level sports officials, as that is where shortages of officials are the most concerning. 

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