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Sports officials denied special protection

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If you want to kill a bill in the Utah Legislature these days, just say it is akin to special treatment in hate crimes.

Utah Eagle Forum president Gayle Ruzicka compared Rep. Dave Hogue's bill on enhanced criminal penalties for attacking a sports official to "another hate crime thing."

"Once again, this bill leaves me out," said Ruzicka, who as a white mother says she belongs to a large class of Utahns.

Hate crime legislation seems to have been singled out for especially harsh treatment by lawmakers these past several years.

In quick order, the Judiciary Interim Committee voted the bill down Tuesday, even though the House approved the same measure a year ago. "Maybe I'll turn this into a resolution condemning violence against referees," said a saddened Hogue, who works part-time as a sports official.

Hogue, R-Riverton, says violent crimes against sports officials, which includes yelling and threatening a referee without actually touching him, are on the rise. It's a dangerous situation, says Hogue, that lawmakers should address.

His bill would increase the penalty from a Class B misdemeanor to a Class A misdemeanor, which would mean a conviction could bring a hefty fine and a year in the county jail.

But it's just a plain bad idea, said Ruzicka.

Assault should not depend on who is assaulted, but on the act itself, she said. Pass this bill "and you might as well pull the paddy wagon up to the door" of many sporting events in Utah, including "a number of basketball games in my (LDS) church," she said.

Ruzicka said one of her sons (she is the mother of 10 children) would have ended up in the pokey with Hogue's law because once, when the son fouled out of a basketball game being coached by her husband, he started yelling at his father.

"But what he would have gotten" from the law would have been nothing "to what I did to him when he got home. I never went back to one of those games" she was so upset over the son's behavior.

But that's the point, she said. Everyone, including the athletes, coaches and parents and fans should be treated the same. One class of victims - the officials — should not be singled out, Ruzicka said.

"Athletes fight with each other all the time." They should get special penalties. Parents may fight with each other in the stands. They shouldn't get special treatment, she said.

"We already provide (enhanced) penalties for attacks against teachers, legislators, EMTs and police officers. This is no different," said Hogue. "This is not a hate crime bill. It's aimed (at protecting) a vulnerable individual."

But members of the committee were unconvinced. The bill was killed and Hogue said he wouldn't try to revive it in two weeks when legislators begin their regular general session.

E-mail: bbjr@desnews.com