Oregon Governor Signs Bill Protecting Sports Officials

Oregon Governor Signs Bill Protecting Sports Officials

(RACINE, Wis.) — Not only will sports officials be covered under a new assault and harassment law in Oregon, but the offended official will receive $500 to $1,000 in liquidated damages from the attacker under a new law signed July 24 by Governor John A. Kitzhaber.

The new law means anyone accused of a deliberate assault a sports official at recreational, interscholastic, collegiate or professional sporting events will not only face criminal charges, but will be subject to the financial fine. In addition, the court is allowed to "award reasonable attorney fees to a prevailing plaintiff."

The law is unique to the officiating industry’s efforts to curtail physical abuse of officials. It is the first to attach a minimum restitution to the assaulted official.

According to National Association of Sports Officials (NASO) president Barry Mano, "This bill serves notice that you will pay a severe penalty if you choose to take the law into your own hands against a sports official."

Oregon becomes the 13th state to pass legislation supported by NASO. Since 1987, the 19,000-member organization has spearheaded grassroots efforts for such legislation. In a recently released 29-page Special Report: Assaults On Sports Officials, Mano noted an alarming increase in the number of assaults against officials in recent years.

"Players, coaches and fans must understand that the sports official’s role is to ensure the safety and fairness of the competition. When a call doesn’t go your way, that doesn’t mean you can use violence to resolve your frustrations," Mano said.

Mano added that the association was "pleased to have played an important support role" in the efforts begun and sustained by NASO member Mark Padgett,

Tigard, Ore., and State Representative Al King, (D-Springfield), an amateur soccer official. It was Padgett who took a leadership position at the local level and coordinated the effort with King.

"High school officials across the state banded together to write letters, send e-mails and call their legislators," said Padgett. "We had great support from Wes Ediger and Tom Welter at the Oregon School Activities Association office as well. Without everyone working together, this would not have become a reality."

In spite of the gravity of the issue, King used some levity during the House floor debate. Dressed in his soccer officiating uniform, King "red carded" a fellow representative who mockingly approached him during the debate and began choking King.

"This is an important step in taking violence out of our sports events," said King. "For the first time in Oregon’s history, there is a real consequence for harassing an official. The issue here is not money for officials who are assaulted. It is about raising the consciousness of fans, parents, players and coaches that sportsmanship is the spirit of the game and the message for our kids."

The legislation passed the Oregon Senate, 28-2, but failed in the House of Representatives by a nine vote margin when first considered. An amended version passed the house by a 32-26 vote. The Senate then approved the new House version, 22-4.

Oregon now joins Arkansas, California, Delaware, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and West Virginia as states with legislation designed to protect sports officials from physical assaults. Illinois recently passed legislation that is awaiting the signature of Governor George H. Ryan.

More than 20 states are expected to consider similar legislation in their current or upcoming legislative sessions.