Kentucky Politics

The Kentucky House of Representatives has passed a bill making it illegal to intimidate sports officials with the intention to get them to alter a decision in a sports contest.

Threats could include promises to injure the sports official, damage their property, confine them or harm their financial interests.

Rep. David Hale, a Republican from Wellington, said he hoped the bill would encourage more people to become youth sports officials.

“The officials numbers are dropping at an all-time rate,” Hale said. “I’m really afraid of what’s going to happen if we don’t put some teeth behind this. If we don’t put some really severe potential penalties behind someone that would do that.”

Supporters of the legislation say it would help curtail cases of violence and intimidation at sporting events around the state.

Paducah Republican Rep. Randy Bridges sponsored the bill after AAU basketball referee Kenny Culp was attacked by a coach in 2019, suffering a concussion and brain bleed.

“Discussions we’ve had with law enforcement and sports officials have led us to believe that more needed to be done to keep these highly-charged situations from escalating,” Bridges said.

The bill passed out of the House of Representatives with a vote of 91-4. It will now be considered by the Kentucky Senate.

Rep. Maria Sorolis, a Democrat from Louisville, said she worried that the bill could be interpreted broadly in a state known for its spirited basketball fans.

“We take our sports pretty seriously in Kentucky. So if somebody makes an unkind remark that could be interpreted as intimidation towards Coach K, or Coach Cal or some visiting coach, would they be liable under this section?,” Sorolis asked, referring to Duke Men’s Basketball Coach Mike Krzyzewski and UK’s John Calapari.

An earlier version of the bill would have made it a Class D felony to assault a sports official, but the measure was amended before passing out of committee last week.

The bill also comes after Kentucky Sports Radio host Matt Jones was sued by an NCAA official after Jones shared his information online in 2017. An appeals court sided with Jones in the lawsuit last month.

The sponsor of the bill said it has nothing to do with Jones’ case.

Ryland Barton is the Capitol bureau chief for Kentucky Public Radio.