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Proposed law would make penalties harsher for anyone who assaults a referee

(File).

A committee of state lawmakers heard from multiple referees Tuesday night in favor of a proposed law, which would add sports officials to the list of 'special victims.'

Anyone who commits a crime against a special victim could face an elevated degree of charges, according to state law.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Jerome Barnes (D-Raytown), told committee members about a recent incident in his hometown, in which a fan got out of the stands and punched a referee. The referee was taken to the hospital with a concussion.

"Men and women, boys and girls who give their time and energy to officiate games not only deserve respect, they must have complete confidence that they'll be able to carry out their responsibility in a safe environment," Barnes told committee members.

Barnes told committee members 23 other states have some type of law that protects sports officials. Assaulting an official in the state is currently considered a Class C misdemeanor offense. Barnes said under his proposal, it would become a Class A misdemeanor, which includes penalties up to one year in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Richard Schulte, a St. Louis area referee, told committee members after a game in 2010, he had been assaulted by a parent. He the parent struck him from behind with an aluminum water bottle while he was putting his bags in his car. Schulte said the parent was never fined or put in jail. "We need some kind of protection, and I thought our state already had it, but I found out, it didn't," he said.

The Missouri State High School Activities Association's Assistant Executive Director, Kenny Seifert told committee members the organization has about 4,500 referees statewide. He said he is responsible for recruiting, training and maintaining officials.

"We have a shortage of officials across the nation, we have a shortage of officials in the state of Missouri, we have shortages for specific sports,"said Seifert. "When there is fear of getting into it, part of that fear is not feeling safe. It becomes a real challenge for us," Seifert said.

Seifert told committee members the enhanced penalties would help as a deterrent. He said referees cannot act or retaliate when placed in compromising situations after sporting events.

David Thompson, a Kansas City-area official, told committee members the harassment of officials is present in Missouri. He told lawmakers about an incident during a Mayor's Night Hoops tournament in Kansas City. "We had one team that was drunk. They couldn't hit the broad side of a barn, but it was going to be our fault that they were unsuccessful in their game," Thompson said. "Walking out to our cars in the parking lot, a mom with a four-month old baby on her left hip takes her lighter and tries to set my shirt on fire," Thompson said. "It happens. Has it been rising? No, it has risen. It's here."




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