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Proposed bill would make harassing sports officials a crime in Wisconsin

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MADISON, Wis. (CBS 58) -- A bipartisan bill proposed in Madison would more seriously punish people who harass or intimidate sports officials.

The proposal would make such abuse a misdemeanor, which could mean jail time for offenders.

Longtime referees say the way they’re treated has reached an alarming level.

Just under half of referees polled in a 2017 national survey responded that they’d feared for their safety.

“I’ve been on matches where officials have been threatened,” said Jason Palmer, a volleyball and water polo referee in Racine.

There have been high profile incidents too, like former Packers coach Mike McCarthy pursuing a basketball official to yell at him earlier this year.

Barry Mano, the founder and president of the National Association of Sports Officials, says the way they’re treated is the main reason there’s a referee shortage nationwide.

The WIAA supports the bill.

It’s executive director, Dave Anderson, said in a statement, “We are grateful for [the legislature’s] willingness to help protect and preserve these school-based activities...which contribute to the fabric of our communities and society.”

Twenty four states have laws specifically protecting referees.

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