2015 Sports Officials Legislative Scorecard
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Has your state passed laws pertaining to assaults on officials, officials’ liability or independent contractor status? Those three issues impact sports officials a lot. And many states have realized the importance of addressing those topics.
Sports officials should be able to perform their duties without threat of personal injury, administrative hearings or litigation because of their game calls. Being a referee or umpire is no easy task. State legislators can show support for the men and women who officiate on the courts and fields by passing laws to protect them.
NASO has been bringing attention to assault, liability and independent contractor issues for years. The map, updated for 2015, displays the states that have passed laws dealing with those issues. There are currently 21 states that have officiating assault laws (including 19 with criminal laws and two with civil statutes), 16 with limited liability legislation and 14 states with independent contractor laws. How does your state score? If there is work to be done, consider getting involved.
Pass Legislation in Your State
Since 1984, when NASO first submitted model legislation regarding assaults against officials, members and legislators have used such models to construct their own legislative bills.
There is no fool-proof plan to get the job done. Each state handles legislation differently, and it is up to the local constituency to manage the process effectively. It is NASO’s goal that individual members utilize the proposed legislative models and work with their associations and local legislators to construct viable laws. Before you do anything else, it’s a good idea to do some research. Request an NASO Assault Legislation Packet and visit www.naso.org. Contact your state government to find out what specific legislation is in place. And if your state does not have needed laws in place, you can get involved.
1. Contact your local association. Share with your association what other states have done in terms of legislation. Move forward united.
2. Circulate a petition. Ask members of your association and area officials association to sign a petition asking your lawmakers to take action.
3. Gather information. Gather and present information to legislators about incidents that have happened in your state that apply, such as officiating assaults, etc.
4. Get on the phone or Internet. Contact your legislators and meet with them to present information that may help to pass the legislation.
5. Follow up. After talking and meeting with your legislators, follow up with a thank you letter and tell them that you will follow their progress. Keep the topic in the forefront.
Assault Legislation Information Available Online
For the latest legislation information, visit naso.org. There you will find legislation statuses in each state, information about model legislation and specific state assault legislation.
Michigan Assault Bills Pass Judiciary Committee
On March 3, the Michigan Senate Judiciary Committee, by a 4-1 vote, moved to report Senate Bills 31 and 32, sponsored by Senator Morris Hood, to the full Senate with recommendations that the bills be passed and take effect immediately.
Senate Bill 31 would classify an assault or assault and battery upon a sports official as a misdemeanor punishable by up to one year in prison and a $1,000 fine. Senate Bill 32 expands Bill 31. If the official sustains an injury requiring medical care, it would be a felony punishable by up to two years in prison and a $2,000 fine.
If the violation caused the official serious impairment of bodily function, the crime would be a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine.
The bills were partly inspired by the death of John Bieniewicz, a soccer referee from Westland, Mich., who died in 2014 after being punched by a player from an adult recreational game. The player, Bassel Abdul-Amir, 36, of Dearborn, Mich., was sentenced to eight years in prison.
Indiana Pursues Assault Legislation
Indiana lawmakers are considering a bill that would increase penalties for battery of a sports official. Senate Bill 134, sponsored by state Sen. Lonnie Randolph, puts officials into the same category as jail guards and probation officers — making it a felony to assault them. Currently in Indiana, assaulting a sports official is a second-tier misdemeanor.
Texas Seeks to Update Assault Law
Texas is already among the states with laws specifically addressing assaults and battery on sports officials, but lawmakers are seeking to update the law.
In Texas, House Bill 1829, initiated by the Texas Association of Sports Officials, would fix a loophole that excludes coaches from stiffer charges for assaulting an official. The change would still exclude players 18 or younger, but coaches could face class A misdemeanor charges if they assaulted an official.
Other State Legislation Actions:
• In addition to pushing for an update to the assault law, TASO worked closely with state lawmakers to get HB 1040 introduced. It would protect officials from frivolous lawsuits. It was prompted by a case in 2006 when an entire Texas football crew and TASO were sued for $10 million by a workers compensation insurance company following an Oct. 26, 2004, in-game collision between an official and a coach. The coach suffered injuries that ended his teaching and coaching careers. TASO and the officials ultimately prevailed in court and won a countersuit, but the process took years.
• In Missouri, SCR 17 urges schools, Little League and recreational programs, law enforcement, and prosecutors to do all they can to put an end to threats and assaults on sports officials. Sponsored by Dan Hegemen, the concurrent resolution was referred to the House Select Committee on General Laws on April 22.
• In Massachusetts, HB 1585 and 1589 were introduced on Jan. 14 and 15 by Rep. Angelo Scaccia. HB 1585 is an act calling for limited civil liability for officials and HB 1589 is an act to establish a penalty for assault on a sports official. Both bills were referred to the Judiciary Committee.
• In New York, SB 2650, sponsored by Sen. Marc Panepinto, was proposed to increase the penalty for assaults involving a youth sports official. The bill was referred to the Codes Committee on Jan. 27.