Benninghoff hopes to fix ARD law

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A Centre County legislator is taking steps to ensure a situation from his own backyard doesn’t happen in Pennsylvania again.

State Rep. Kerry Benninghoff, R-Bellefonte, wants to change the law so that no one with a child sex offense goes through the pretrial intervention program known as Accelerated Rehabilitative Disposition.

Former Harris Township Supervisor Christopher Lee was indicted by a federal grand jury on child exploitation and child pornography charges in October, but that was not the first time he was named in a criminal suit.

Lee participated in the ARD program after being charged with indecent assault involving two children, ages 8 and 10, in 2005. His record was subsequently scrubbed and sealed, until it was reopened after the federal charges were filed.

Clearfield County District Attorney William Shaw said in October that counties are given little direction from the state on what crimes are permissible for ARD, leaving decisions in local hands.

Michael Madeira was the Centre County district attorney in 2006 and pushed for the ARD inclusion over the objections of the victims’ family.

On Tuesday, Benninghoff introduced House Bill 623 with 27 co-sponsors. The legislation would “make the law clear” and take several offenses off the ARD table, including rape, involuntary deviate sexual intercourse or aggravated indecent assault of a child.

Benninghoff spokeswoman Morgan Wagner said the bill was a direct response to the Lee case.

“Rep. Benninghoff wanted to make sure this never happens again,” she said. “He saw an issue with the law that needed to be corrected.”

Benninghoff was first elected to the 171st District in 1996. In 2012, his opponent was Lee.