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By Tony Romeo

HARRISBURG (CBS) — A bill that would strengthen Pennsylvania’s arson laws – spurred by a string of arson fires that plagued Coatesville several years ago – has cleared the Pennsylvania Senate.

The bill is sponsored by suburban Philadelphia Republicans John Rafferty and Dominic Pileggi, the majority leader of the Senate. Rafferty says the measure creates a new offense called “aggravated arson.”

“We’re looking at it as a way to tell these individuals that it’s now a stricter crime for aggravated arson and a longer jail sentence,” Rafferty says. “We’re hoping it deters anyone from doing this.”

Rafferty says he and Pileggi worked with local Chester County officials to draft the legislation after the series of arsons that resulted in one death and more than $3 million damage.

The bill clarifies murder charges related to arson. It also creates tougher sentencing guidelines for arson when injuries or major property damage results, when there’s an intent to cause injury, or if the arsonist knew someone was inside the structure.

The bill now goes to the state House for consideration.

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