Boy closer to realizing referee dream after Indiana House passes Senate bill

Matthew Burkart, 13, lobbied lawmakers

INDIANAPOLIS - Matthew Burkart could soon be refereeing youth soccer games this year, after all.

The 13-year-old Newburgh boy's efforts to tweak Indiana's child labor laws so that he and other kids his age can work as youth sports referees won the House's approval Monday. It is now headed to Gov. Mike Pence's desk to be signed into law. 

The measure's passage was the culmination of months Burkart spent reaching out to legislators, gathering petition signatures and gathering letters of support from college soccer coaches, mayors, law enforcement officials and more.

"I was kind of surprised -- but I was kind of not," he said of his success. "One person can make all the difference. It doesn't matter on age, how small or how tall. One person can make all the difference in the world."

Currently, Indiana labor laws allow children under age 14 to work only as golf caddies, farm laborers and newspaper deliverers. Burkart was lobbying for Senate Bill 153, which would add youth sports officials to that list of exempted jobs.

Sen. Vaneta Becker, R-Evansville, introduced the measure, and it sailed through the Senate without a "no" vote. Rep. Suzanne Crouch, R-Evansville, carried it in the House, where it also easily drew members' backing.

The bill cleared its final legislative hurdle on Monday when it was approved by the House on a 92-4 vote, and now heads to Pence's desk. His spokeswoman, Kara Brooks, said the governor will soon review the bill and decide whether to sign it into law.

If he does sign it, the measure would take effect immediately. That means Burkart would have about 10 months to referee soccer before he turns 14 -- enough to get him onto the field for the fall season, and possibly this spring, too, if he can get into a training program in time.

"This bill is the result of a young man's passion for his sport and his commitment to making a difference," Crouch told the House.

Other Southwestern Indiana lawmakers co-sponsored the bill, including Rep. Ron Bacon, R-Chandler, and Rep. Gail Riecken, D-Evansville.

"I think it's exciting that we have somebody that young who's so passionate about his sport, and what he's doing, period," Riecken said.

Burkart got the news that his bill had passed the House from his teacher at the Holy Rosary School in Evansville and then celebrated with his classmates.

"They were really excited -- they were all cheering and clapping and really fired up," he said. "A couple of them wanted to referee too, besides me."

He said he has one friend who'd like to be a football official, two who want to become baseball umpires and two more who hope to referee soccer.

Burkart wowed lawmakers when he testified in House and Senate committee meetings, but he said he's not sure what his future might entail or whether it could involve more trips to the Statehouse.

"I'm still trying to work on being a kid," he said.

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