State lawmakers are weighing a measure that would make verbally threatening to harm a sports official a Class C felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Representatives of Hawaii’s youth sports community gathered at a Senate Committee on Judiciary hearing on Tuesday in support of Senate Bill 2612. They said the number one reason sports referees leave after one season is because of threats and physical abuse.
Danny Casey, Hawaii Scholastic Soccer Federation vice president, said the lack of sports officials is one of the biggest issues facing youth sports in the state.
“I’ve already had two or three referees from this season tell me, 'I’m not coming back. I don’t feel safe,'” he said. “We had several incidences during the playoffs where the only thing standing between the referees and the people abusing them was an 8-foot chain link fence. Not all facilities have that. We need to send a message to our community that this kind of behavior cannot be tolerated.”
The National Association of Sports Officials surveyed 17,000 sports officials nationally in 2017. Fifty-six percent of respondents said they thought that sportsmanship has deteriorated. They also said parents have the most sportsmanship issues followed by coaches and fans.
Christopher Chun, Hawaii High School Athletic Association executive director, recalled a high school wrestling tournament where a wrestler, after being disqualified, grabbed a sports official and verbally threatened him.
The measure would also make intentionally assaulting a sports official a Class B felony.
Opponents of the measure said existing assault laws already cover sports officials. A representative of the Hawaii Office of the Public Defender also warned against creating special victim classes that provide elevated penalties and do not reduce offenses.
The judiciary committee recommended the measure be adopted by the full Senate with amendments. '
Correction: A previous version of this story reported the measure was reccomended to be adopted by the full House with amendments. In fact, it was the Senate.