Under current Wisconsin law, a person can be charged for harassment or intimidation of another, striking, shoving or kicking another person or engaging in a course of conduct that repeatedly commits acts which harass or intimidate another person and which serve no legitimate purpose. Offenders can be slapped with a fine up to $1,000 which is classified as a Class B forfeiture.
Under the bill, someone who harasses a referee, umpire, judge or person performing similar functions and the conduct is in response to a sport official’s action or is intended to influence a sport official’s action, could receive greater consequences. Punishment could include up to nine months in jail, a fine of $10,000 or both, classifying it as a Class A misdemeanor.
Organizations are identifying an increasing need for protections specific to sports officials. Referees are already protected by law in 24 other states. According to a Wisconsin Public Radio report on the bill: “In 2017, the National Association of Sports Officials conducted a survey of more than 17,000 referees from across the country. It found that nearly 50 percent of officials have feared for their safety, while almost 60 percent felt that sportsmanship is on the decline.”
Legislation offering protection to sports officials has found support from organizations including the National Association of Sports Officials, the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association, the Wisconsin Athletic Directors Association and the Wisconsin Intercollegiate Athletic Conference.
The bill has bi-partisan support but is currently seeking co-sponsors before it would be presented to a legislative committee in Wisconsin. Support for the bill continues to grow with sponsorship coming from 29 Assembly representatives and nine senators.