Benninghoff bill that prohibits ARD for sex offenders passes House

A law that would limit plea deals for people accused of sex crimes against children passed the state House of Representatives last week.

House Bill 623, state Rep. Kerry Benninghoff’s proposed legislation, received unanimous, bipartisan support, his office said in a release.

Benninghoff’s bill would prohibit sentences of accelerated rehabilitative disposition for anyone charged with certain child sex offenses including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse or aggravated indecent assault.

“When a terrible tragedy occurs in our communities, we often ask ourselves, ‘was there something I could have done?’ ” Benninghoff said. “This bill helps to prevent child predators from causing more harm to our children, and I am grateful to my colleagues from all across the state for joining forces, and for doing something to protect them.”

Benninghoff put the bill forward after Christopher Lee, then a Harris Township supervisor, was arrested on federal charges including coercion and child pornography in October 2014. Lee, who has since stepped down from both his Harris Township position and his role as CEO of the Boal Mansion, has had additional charges added twice since then as his case has been continued and delayed multiple times.

Lee was also charged with indecent assault involving two minors in 2005. That case ended in ARD.

Under an ARD program, successful completion can result in an expunged record. It was intended to help a first-time offender avoid a long-term record for a one-time mistake

According to Benninghoff’s office, “Though many Pennsylvania prosecutors sensibly reserve ARD for those whom they believe are truly deserving, as written, the Pennsylvania Rules of Criminal Procedure gives them discretion to recommend any defendant, including child sexual predators, for the program.”

“This is about getting predators off the street,” Benninghoff said. “The safety and well-being of our children are too important to be left to chance.”

The bill is now headed to the Senate for concurrence.

Lee’s attorney recently requested a status conference in his ongoing case. On Wednesday, federal Judge Matthew Brann ordered a conference for Oct. 29 in Williamsport.