Gross: Needless bill proposes protection for those already protected

Jan 10, 2023, 3:23 PM | Updated: 3:59 pm


Referees signal a first down during a high school football game. (Photo by Madison Images, Inc./Corbis via Getty Images)

(Photo by Madison Images, Inc./Corbis via Getty Images)

Violent incidents are jarring — especially when they take place in public. These days, everything is caught on camera.

This incident was caught on camera at a Kenmore Middle School basketball game Dec. 2021.

Mark McLaughlin exited the stands and allegedly assaulted a 72-year-old official, rushing at the victim. While the referee avoided serious injuries, his wounds still required bandages. The defendant is awaiting trial on assault charges.

A new bill proposed in the Washington House of Representatives, H.B. 1096, would add amateur referees to a protected class. Verbal or physical attacks against non-professional referees would be classified as an assault, receiving the same penalty one would for assaulting transit drivers, court officers, firefighters, and even law enforcement officers.

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This bill is co-sponsored by Rep. Sam Low (R-Lake Stevens) and Rep. Marcus Riccelli (D-Spokane).

“Escalating verbal abuse, inappropriate sideline behavior, and hostile actions between spectators are becoming much more frequent,” said Riccelli, an experienced official and youth sports coach.

Riccelli pointed to this behavior as a primary reason behind a nationwide shortage of officials.

“The verbal abuse is out of control and the threat of physical abuse seems more and more present,” Riccelli said. “Officials need to be safe and feel safe.”

It is hard to argue with the points Riccelli makes. Keeping kids engaged in sports and other physical activities that promote active lifestyles is important. Riccelli said that has motivated his work in the Health Care Committee, where this bill is currently.

“There is no data to prove that potential officials opt not to join because of fan behavior,” Washington Officials Association executive director Todd Stordahl told The Jason Rantz Show. “But when speaking with people that are interested in officiating, fan behavior is a concern.”

Stordahl also said his organization did not ask for any legislation, but they do support the bill.

But is this legislation necessary?

Let’s go back to McLaughlin. He was charged with assault in the second degree, a Class B felony, for his actions.

The proposed legislation in H.B. 1096 would make attacking an amateur sports official grounds for assault in the third degree, which is a class C felony.

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I agree with Riccelli that referees need protection and should feel safe doing their jobs. Assault is already a crime, and the most pertinent local example could see higher prosecution than what is being suggested in this bill.

Certainly, adding officials to this law will not cause any harm, but I just wonder if legislative resources might be better used in other capacities.

Jason Rantz on AM 770 KTTH
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Gross: Needless bill proposes protection for those already protected