Bill would make it a crime to intimidate sports officials in Kentucky

Published 10:04 pm Wednesday, February 9, 2022

A Kentucky House committee advanced a bill Wednesday to create a misdemeanor crime for intimidating sports officials that would cover youth leagues to college venues.

If the legislation becomes law, offenders could face up to a year in jail for threatening to injure a sports official or damage a referee’s property. It also would apply to actions intended to “substantially harm” an official’s business or financial interests.

The bill won approval from the House Judiciary Committee, advancing to the full House.

Similar measures were introduced in recent years, after a Kentucky referee was punched and knocked unconscious in Paducah.

Republican Rep. David Hale, who officiated high school sports for years, said Wednesday the abuse that officials are “having to put up with” has caused a shortage of people willing to do the job.

“I’m not talking about just an irate fan in the stands that’s hollering at the official,” said Hale, lead sponsor of the new bill. “It just goes far beyond that.”

He cited instances when abuse against officials escalated in parking lots and beyond school grounds.

Julian Tackett, commissioner of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, reported a 25% to 30% drop in the available pool of officials. The COVID-19 pandemic isn’t the only reason for the decline, he told the committee. And it’s not due to the compensation officials receive, he said.

“It’s the environment. It is what they’re subjected to,” he said.