House panel bill takes aim at unruly Little League parents

In less than five minutes Wednesday, legislators agreed harsher penalties are needed for parents who get overly rowdy with referees.

The Louisiana House Committee on the Administration of Criminal Justice agreed without objection to advance House Bill 227 to the full House for debate.

The bill would subject parents and other sports event spectators to anger management classes, community service, hefty fines and even jail time.

New Orleans area soccer referees Glenn Prechac and Bob Wertz said violence at athletic games is a growing epidemic.

They cited a dispute over a soccer game call that escalated into a Salt Lake City referee’s death last year. A punch to the head killed Ricardo Portillo. The person throwing the punch was a teenager unhappy with Portillo’s call.

YouTube is littered with videos of parents venting their frustration at referees and umpires. In one video, a man charges onto a youth football field in California after a referee scolds his child. The man shoves the referee before being escorted off the field.

Prechac said a parent shoved him 15 or 16 years ago.

“We can’t take chances any more. People are bringing baseball bats to games,” he said.

Now, battery of a school or recreation athletic contest official is punishable by a $500 maximum fine and up to six months in jail. HB227 would increase the penalties to a $1,000-$5,000 fine, at least 10 days in jail, 40 hours of community service and participation in a court-approved counseling program.

Wertz recounted an incident in which a parent followed a referee after a game at the Burbank Soccer Complex in Baton Rouge a few years ago and ran him off the road. Unfortunately for the parent, the referee happened to be an off-duty law enforcement officer.

The bill’s sponsor, state Rep. Cameron Henry, said he wants to bring parents and guardians under control by increasing the penalties when they act out.

“I’m sure we’ve all seen the videos ... referees being assaulted by parents, screaming and yelling at eighth-grade Little League games,” said Henry, R-New Orleans.

State Rep. Terry Brown, No Party-Colfax, quickly interjected to clarify the bill’s intent.

“Screaming and yelling, that’s one thing,” Brown said.

Henry corrected himself, saying the bill targets the physical assault of school or athletic contest officials.

“Then at the appropriate time, I move favorably,” Brown said.

With the serious business done, legislators cracked a few jokes before letting the legislation loose. The bill must work its way to the state Senate and then to the governor’s desk before becoming law.

“You think y’all are always right?” state Rep. Steven E. Pylant, R-Delhi, asked Prechac.

Prechac quickly said, “No, sir.”

State Rep. Joseph Lopinto, R-Metairie, jokingly asked if Henry could add in a defense for when a pitch really was a strike.