House Committee Approves Benninghoff ‘Drunken Boating’ Bill

The House Game and Fisheries Committee today approved a bill sponsored by Rep. Kerry Benninghoff (R-Centre/Mifflin) that would increase the legal penalty for killing someone while operating a watercraft while under the influence of alcohol or drugs. 

Currently, the penalties for vehicular homicide while driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol and homicide while operating a boat under the influence are different.  The penalty for those operating a watercraft is more lenient.  Benninghoff’s bill would change that.  

“This bill establishes parity,” Benninghoff said.  “To the parent of a dead child, it doesn’t matter if the person was driving a boat or a car while under the influence.  The child is still gone.  Whether it’s a boat or a car, we want to send the message that if you drive under the influence and kill someone, there will be serious consequences.” 

Benninghoff’s bill originated after the 2009 death of 12-year-old Valerie Heidt, who was killed in a boating accident in the Susquehanna River.  Heidt was killed by a man operating a boat while under the influence of alcohol. 

House Bill 78 would change the penalty for homicide by watercraft while under the influence from a third-degree felony to a second-degree felony, bringing it in line with the penalty for vehicular homicide while driving under the influence. 

“Alcohol and boating don’t mix any better than alcohol and driving,” Benninghoff said.  “Under my legislation, at least the two offenses would have equal penalties, including cumulative sentences when there is more than one victim.” 

Benninghoff’s bill now heads to the full House for consideration. 

State Representative Kerry Benninghoff
171st District, Pennsylvania House of Representatives

Contact:  Dan Massing

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