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DES MOINES - You might think the referee is blind, but if you get so upset that you assault him or her, you could face serious charges in Iowa.
State Sen. Tod Bowman, D-Maquoketa, a former wrestling coach and official, has introduced a bill that would make an assault on a referee at a sporting event a serious misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and a fine of $315 to $1,875.
Bowman said he was told by an Iowa Senate committee chairman that his bill will not be acted upon this year. Bowman hopes to work more on the legislation after the session and, if re-elected this fall, try again next year.
Bowman said he has witnessed, up close, the rage that can build in fans at sporting events. He said he believes angry fans often start by internally cursing officials during sporting events.
Bowman said he wants a stronger law to deter those fans from acting on that anger.
"I see how emotional some fans get. "¦ I've seen where referees have felt threatened," said Bowman, who still teaches at Maquoketa High School and is a former varsity wrestling coach there.
He also was a licensed wrestling official for about six years, he said.
"This is a crossing-the-line type of thing, where you're making it so much of a sacred cow that you don't even think about going after an official," he said. "The idea was to maybe increase the level of consequence in regard to punishment."
More than 2,000 reports of physical acts against officials at sporting events were recorded in 2011 by National Association of Sports Officials.
According to that organization, 23 states - including Illinois - have laws that define assaults on sports officials or other laws intended to protect sports officials.
The Illinois law makes an assault on an official at a sporting event a class A misdemeanor with a minimum $1,000 fine.
Gerald Ross, of Epworth, Iowa, officiated high school basketball for more than 20 years and now is the assistant athletic director at Western Dubuque High School. He said he never encountered a situation where he felt he was in danger of being assaulted by an irate fan. However, he also said, anything that would help prevent such action is a positive.
"Anything we can do to keep people from trying to address officials in the game would be a good thing," Ross said. "It's certainly something that should never happen."
One group officially has stated its opposition to the bill, according to online lobbying records. That group is Justice Reform Consortium, a group of advocacy and parochial organizations that works to reform the criminal justice system. TH Media was unable to contact its representatives Tuesday afternoon.
The group's website says the consortium wants the reform to move the justice system from "one based on retributive justice to one based on restorative justice. The organizations work to support legislation that would provide for increased funding for family connections, education, mental health and substance abuse treatment and reentry programs."