Bennett Bill Protecting Vulnerable Children Passes House

DOVER – Legislation sponsored by Rep. Andria Bennett that would enhance penalties for people convicted of sexual offenses against children under the age of 7 passed the House of Representatives Tuesday.

Rep. Bennett pursued House Bill 259 following the tragic abduction and sexual assault of a 4-year-old Pike Creek child last year. The effort is similar to initiatives from several years ago when the General Assembly passed legislation to enhance crimes against those who victimize seniors. 

“We need to protect our most vulnerable populations, and that includes protecting young children from people who may seek to harm and take advantage of them,” said Rep. Bennett, D-Dover. “This statistic is heartbreaking – one out of seven victims of sexual assaults are under the age of 6. I believe this legislation sends a message that these actions are unacceptable and these crimes are inexcusable.”

The legislation updates Jessica’s Law, which was enacted in 2006 and addressed penalties for sexual offenses committed against vulnerable victims less than 14 years of age.

HB 259 specifically enhances penalties under Jessica’s Law if the victim is under the age of 7 as well as if the perpetrator is convicted of first-degree unlawful sexual contact of a child under 13, second-degree kidnapping for the purpose of sexually abusing a victim if the victim is under 7, or first-degree kidnapping for the purpose of sexually abusing a victim if the victim is under 7.

HB 259 passed unanimously. It now heads to the Senate.