TRENTON – The Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation sponsored by former Governor Richard Codey and Senator Joseph Lagana to designate assault against youth sports officials as aggravated assault rather than simple assault.
Under the bill, S-709, any assault against a sports official who suffers bodily injury would be upgraded to a crime of the third degree, potentially punishable by a term of imprisonment of three to five years, a fine of up to $15,000, or both. If the assault does not result in bodily injury, then the act would be upgraded to a crime of the fourth degree, punishable by a term of imprisonment of up to 18 months, a fine of up to $10,000, or both.
“Assaults on youth sports officials are, unfortunately, not a new problem,” said Senator Codey (D-Essex), “But they have been on the rise since the waning of the COVID-19 Pandemic, driving new officials away and making what should be a fun, healthy, character-building experience for children stressful and even dangerous. There is simply no excuse for assaulting anyone because of sports, especially when there are children involved.”
According to the National Association of Sports Officials (NASO), the impact of the bad behavior in youth sports has led to all-time low numbers of active officials and referees across the country, causing hundreds of game cancellations. NASO’s 2023 National Officiating Survey of more than 35,000 sports officials found that over half have feared for their safety because of irresponsible, threatening behavior.
“This year alone in New Jersey, there have been dozens of high-profile incidents where parents or spectators threatened or assaulted referees and other officials,” said Senator Lagana (D-Bergen). “Children shouldn’t have to fear that their performance in sports can lead to violence, and they should not be forced to witness it because an overzealous parent or spectator couldn’t control themselves. The unprecedented rise in this behavior justifies action, and I hope that this bill can help make youth sports less unruly than in the recent past.”
The bill was advanced in a 9-0 vote.