Ferro: Hands off referees in new bill

Personal contact on the basketball court forces a referee to call a foul on rule-breaking athletes, but striking a sports official could result in higher fines or punishment under legislation introduced by Del. Mike Ferro, D-Marshall.

House Bill 2548 would increase the penalties for those found guilty of abuse or battery against an athletic official. The legislation defines an athletic official as a person who enforces the rules of a sporting event, or someone supervising the participants – such as a coach.

Existing law terms it a misdemeanor to assault someone acting as an athletic official and stipulates a fine of $50 to $100. Mandated jail time is 24 hours to 30 days. Ferro’s bill would increase the amount of mandated jail time to at least five days – and up to six months.

The charge of battery on a sports official – still a misdemeanor – is defined as striking the official more than once.

The offender presently can be fined $100 to $500. He or she also can face 24 hours to 30 days in jail. The bill increases the mandated jail time to at least 10 days, with a possible sentence of up to one year.

Ferro is a retired teacher and former assistant basketball coach at John Marshall High School. He said he has not been involved in any incidents that inspired him to introduce the bill.

“But I’ve been in coaching all my life,” he said. “I have seen how irate parents and coaches can be. The official is the person most often their anger is directed toward, and this is trying to protect them a little bit.

“No, there has not been any anger directed toward me,” he continued. “But I have seen it toward fellow coaches, colleagues and referees.”

Ferro added he is open to amending his bill as it pertains to incarceration time.

“With our jail overcrowding situation, I know we don’t want to do anything too punitive,” he said.

The bill currently sits before the House Judiciary Committee; it is also slated to go before the House Finance Committee.

Former Del. Scott Varner, D-Marshall, introduced a similar bill in 2012 that did not become law.