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New legislation to make referee harassment Class A misdemeanor

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WISCONSIN (WQOW) - Two years after it was originally proposed to the state Legislature, a bill that would make harassing or intimidating a sports official a Class A misdemeanor is finally getting some traction thanks to the WIAA.

There are 24 states that have assault legislation, civil statutes or supportive resolutions to protect sport officials. Wisconsin could be number 25. Republicans and Democrats from both chambers have also signed on as co-sponsors of the bill.

"This is not something in society that we accept, we don't accept the fact that people will bully and harass good people who are trying to do the right thing and protect our kids. Let our kids play," said Sen. Jeff Smith (D-Eau Claire).

The bill proposes the intimidation or harassment as a Class A misdemeanor which can carry a fine up to $10,000 and up to nine months in prison.

"I would love to say that we didn't need it. It wasn't necessary. But as a person who officiated through college, and someone who has kids in the school district, and as a school board member for [the] Menomonie School District, I've seen firsthand where things have escalated," said Rep. Clint Moses (R-Menomonie).

Violators could also be required to complete community service and counseling. Moses said the bill was necessary because there's a shortage of officials. A 2019 WIAA report recorded that 43% of officials quit within the first one to three years.

Dave Bestul has been a USA hockey official for over 25 years. He said official hostility is common.

"I've experienced several occasions where after contests people have approached me as an official and wanted to express concerns," Bestul said.

He said he is more likely to be cornered at the youth level rather than high school. Bestul hopes the new bill will help younger officials stay in the vocation longer.

"Without officials, there are no games to be played," continued Bestul.

Legislators will vote on the prompt during the May session.

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Alyssa Lyons

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