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Kentucky bill seeking to protect referees one step closer to becoming law

'I've personally had experiences where we have had fans follow me and my partner to our car and attack us in the parking lot verbally.'

FRANKFORT, Ky. — A bill that would make intimidating a sports referee a misdemeanor in Kentucky took another step forward.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 7-0-2 on House Bill 89, which would strengthen criminal penalties for people who threaten and assault sports officials. The bill was introduced in the 2020 General Assembly and passed the House as House Bill 65, or the "Good Sport Bill."

Under the bill, a person can face a misdemeanor for threatening a sports official, which includes making a threat to harm them, their families, their property or their financial well-being.

Erin Maguire-Osting, a sports official who is also in charge of assigning referees for field hockey games in the Louisville area, said referees expect to hear it from fans and coaches when a call does not go their way, but there are many instances where people will cross the line.

"I've personally had experiences where we have had fans follow me and my partner to our car and attack us in the parking lot verbally," Maguire-Osting said.

The verbal abuse, and in some extreme cases, physical abuse, is taking its toll on the officiating community, which has seen a decline in numbers over the last several years.

"A lot of times when people get involved in officiating, a lot of people actually just stop after the first or second year," Maguire-Osting said. "And I think it is directly connected to these types of verbal abuse situations."

"If we can go to work and officiate a contest and walk off the field and no one says a word, actually you ingest that as you've done a great job," said Don Hudson, the assigning secretary for football in the Louisville area. "I will testify that yes, absolutely, it has cost me officials because of this type of behavior."

Without officials, schools and clubs are finding more and more issues when it comes to actually getting onto the field or court.

"We've actually had to eliminate games when we didn't have officials," Fern Creek High School Athletic Director Troy Johnson said. "We have to have officials to play the game, so when officials run out, there's no more games. I know it's hard, but all in all, it's just a game and all the kids are just having fun and learning something."

The bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote. If it passes, it will then go to Gov. Andy Beshear.

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