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Minnesota lawmakers are considering a bill that aims to stop unruly fans at youth sporting events by fining them up to $1,000.

Rep. John Huot, DFL-Rosemount, sponsored a bill (HF33) that would allow the Minnesota Amateur Sports Commission to impose a civil fine on people who disrupt or interfere with youth sports. 

The bill is designed to help protect sports officials, coaches and players. 

Huot, a part-time referee, said during a committee hearing on Tuesday having thick skin is part of the job and he's fine with getting booed by fans who are unhappy with the calls he makes. What's not OK is when fans use verbal threats, profanities, vulgarities or racial epithets toward officials or players, throw things at them, or get physical with them.

This has become a growing issue in youth sports in Minnesota and across the country. Earlier this month, a 45-year-old Detroit Lakes man was charged with assault and disorderly conduct, accused of throwing popcorn at a referee and then tearing his whistle from his lanyard during a boys basketball game on Jan. 13.

Related [March 15]: Charges: Angry fan assaults referee during boys high school basketball game

Roger Aronson, attorney for the Minnesota State High School League (MSHSL), said during Tuesday's hearing incidents like this are highly underreported, adding "For every one of the Detroit Lakes incident ... there might have been 10 of those in other areas that we don't know about."

“The objective is to bring back some civility to our youth sports,” Hout said in a statement. “From little league to high school sports, we have to remember that this is about a positive experience for the players. Respect and safety of the players and officials is a must.”

If the bill were to become law, it would fine people $1,000 who assault a youth sports official and those who intentionally go onto or throw something onto the field of play, disrupting the event. 

Hout said the bill does not take away the ability of an unruly fan to be charged with a crime, such as assault or disorderly conduct, if charges are warranted.

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The proposal would also require the Minnesota State High School League and any school board to report when a person is banned for assaulting a sports official and permits officials, game organizers, coaches, or school principals to report other violations.

Aronson said the MSHSL supports the bill because it will help the league have a record of events so it has data to show some of the scope of the problem.

The proposal, which the House Public Safety and Criminal Justice Reform Finance and Policy Committee approved 18-0 on Tuesday, will head to the House Judiciary Finance and Civil Law Committee next.

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