CLEVELAND — Rough up a referee, and it could soon be a felony.

That is the goal of a new proposal now winding its way through the Ohio statehouse.

“Assault a teacher it’s a felony, if you assault a bus driver it would be assault,” State Senator Kristina Roegner said. “If you were to assault a referee on the field, that would only be a misdemeanor.”  

Referee Andy Milligan says there are now 2,500 fewer licensed referees in Ohio compared to 10 years ago, citing abuse as the main reason they quit.

“Coming from everywhere, all levels, all ages,” Milligan said. “It just has to be stopped.”

Bills in the House and Senate support the following: Assault a referee once and you face a $2500 fine and 40 hours of community service. Assault them twice and you face a 5th degree felony.

There would also be provisions for menacing. Should you threaten a referee with death or harm, you would face a $1,000 fine and 20 hours of community service.

Michael Porpora has been a referee for 43 years. Assaulted roughly six times, he supports the change.

“I don’t want to see anybody get in trouble,” he said. “I want to be a referee and get home safely.”

Twenty-one states have passed similar legislation.

State Representative Bill Roemer believes a new law would deter violence.

“Now there will be teeth where the commissioners and the coaches can say 'there are consequences,'” Rep. Roemer said.

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