Senate Majority Leader spars with critics over controversial child porn bill

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Wednesday is set to vote on a controversial child porn bill introduced by Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment.

“No one is tougher on child pornography than my organization is,” Camille Cooper with the National Association to Protect Children said Tuesday. “No one, and we vehemently do not support anything in this bill or what it is trying to do.”

Camille Cooper addresses lawmakers on Tuesday.
Camille Cooper addresses lawmakers on Tuesday.

Norment has come under fire for SB 1560, which critics say weakens penalties for the production of child porn. It’s a story we told you about last week.

“Somehow, this bill has been contorted and misunderstood by some of the members of the media,” Norment said while speaking about the bill to the Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday.

Norment is telling lawmakers his intention was to strengthen child porn laws.

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“That’s just disingenuous,” said Cooper, who argues that the bill actually weakens the law.

Under the bill, a person possessing child porn they produced “shall be punished by not less than five years nor more than 20 years in a state correctional facility, two years of which shall be a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.”

Under current Virginia law, someone charged with the production of child porn “shall be punished by a term of imprisonment of not less than five years nor more than 30 years in a state correctional facility, five years of which shall be a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.”

Also under the bill, a person who commits a second offense shall be punished by not less than 10 years  nor more than 20 years in a state correctional facility, 10 years of which shall be a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.”

Under current Virginia law, a person who commits a second offense “shall be punished by a term of imprisonment of not less than 15 years nor more than 40 years, 15 years of which shall be a mandatory minimum term of imprisonment.”

James City County’s commonwealth’s attorney, Nate Green, told committee members on Monday his office suggested the bill after facing a defendant who possessed child porn that was produced in another state. Green said because of jurisdiction, he couldn’t charge him with production. Green says Norment’s bill would allow him to do that.

“While we wanted to go after this as production, we knew it had taken place outside of Virginia,” Green explained.

“I believe from reading the headlines he got an 185-year sentence,” Louisa County Commonwealth’s attorney Rusty McGuire said. “I don’t care what you’re charging, that’s justice.”

McGuire says federal prosecutors can handle interstate cases as he spoke against the bill on Monday.

“This is a solution looking for a problem,” McGuire said.

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McGuire and Cooper also say the bill would increase the penalties for teenagers sexting, which both said they were against.

Norment’s office says there will be amendments to the bill when it is brought back in front of lawmakers on Wednesday.

Click here to view a copy of the bill and here to view a copy of the state’s child porn production law.

This is a developing story. Stay with 8News online and on air for the latest updates.

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