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Legislation would throw flag on unruly youth sports spectators

Spectators who lash out at officials could pay more to attend an event than just the admission price.

As amended, HF3352 would permit the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission to impose a civil penalty of up to $1,000 against individuals who interfere with a youth athletic activity. Monies collected would go toward development of youth officiating programs or awarding grants to organizations to develop those programs.

The commission would be directed to develop a plan to administer the penalty and report back to the Legislature by Jan. 15, 2025.

Rep. John Huot (DFL-Rosemount) sponsors the bill held over Tuesday by the House State and Local Government Finance and Policy Committee. A referee for 19 years, he’s seen the good, bad and ugly from attendees, and for the first time has considered not returning.

“We’re not talking about ‘Bad call ref’ or maybe questioning my eyesight,” Huot said. “We’re talking about that person that oversteps the bounds, that walks out on the floor, that grabs the ref, or grabs a player or goes after a coach. … Frankly, I’m disgusted I even have to do a bill like this but we’re at the point where we have to legislate morality.”

Erich Martens is executive director of the Minnesota State High School League. He said it’s a “very small percent” of fans that are the problem, but any of the events described by Huot put games in peril. Plus, he said there’s a shortage of officials that’s only getting worse and fan behavior is one reason why.

Misconduct listed in the bill includes:

  • intentionally entering the field of play to disrupt a youth athletic activity;
  • intentionally causing an object to enter the playing surface if that object disrupts a youth athletic activity; and
  • assaulting or physically interfering with an official, game organizer, player or coach involved in a youth activity during the event, on the premises, in the parking lot or when the target is traveling from the event to a public transit stop or motor vehicle.

“It is sad that you do have to legislate growing up,” said Rep. Jim Nash (R-Waconia). “… Referees are fallible, and they will make a bad call, but adults who spill onto the court or pitch have crossed the line.”

This is not the only Huot bill that aims to protect sports officials.

He also sponsors HF472 that would establish an enhanced penalty of a gross misdemeanor for assaulting a sports official and inflicting demonstrable bodily harm if the official is performing official duties or in transit from the event.

It was laid over Tuesday by the House Public Safety Finance and Policy Committee.

  • Session Daily writer Tim Walker contributed to this story.


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