Hawley introducing bill to ensure strong penalties for child porn possession

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FIRST ON FOX: Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., introduced legislation Tuesday that would enhance penalties for possession of child pornography and make Federal Sentencing Guidelines binding again to ensure that judges impose tougher sentences on offenders.

The “PROTECT Act Bill of 2022,” which institutes a five-year-mandatory minimum for both the receipt and possession of child pornography, is being cosponsored by Sens. Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Rick Scott, R-Fla. A companion bill is being introduced in the House of Representatives by Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo.

This bill would also prohibit judges from sentencing below the Guidelines’ range for facts found during trial or admitted by the defendant.

“The horror of child pornography is exponentially worse than it was a decade ago, and judges handing out lenient sentences for these criminals is a big reason why,” Hawley said in a statement to Fox News Digital. “While the White House continues to dismiss concerns about leniency toward child porn offenders as a ‘desperate conspiracy theory,’ the numbers speak for themselves. Congress must act before this problem becomes even worse.”

Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson listens to questions from Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., seen on video display, as she testifies during a Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill on March 22, 2022.
(REUTERS/Elizabeth Frantz)

The number of online images and videos depicting child sexual abuse has grown exponentially, with the number skyrocketing from less than 1 million a decade ago to 45 million in 2018, according to The New York Times. In 2021, the number of images and videos had grown to nearly 85 million, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.

The bill comes a week after Hawley’s heated questioning of Supreme Court nominee Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson regarding her sentences for child porn offenders that fell below federal guidelines, punishments by the judge that Hawley and other critics have described as too lenient.

Sen. Mike Lee, R-Utah, speaks during the news conference in the Capitol on Tuesday, July 20, 2021, to announce legislation which would require the president to consult with congressional leaders and obtain congressional authorization before exercising certain national security powers.
(Bill Clark/CQ-Roll Call, Inc)

“Those who view and share Child Sexual Abuse Material (CSAM) fuel demand for the sexual abuse of children,” Lee said. “Last week’s hearings showed that activist judges will not do their job unless Congress mandates minimum sentences for these violent crimes. This bill would make the law in this area crystal clear: If you view or share CSAM, you’ll go to prison for a very long time.”

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., speaks during a news conference about inflation on Capitol Hill on May 26, 2021, in Washington, D.C.
(Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

“Our communities must be protected from sick individuals who exploit and victimize children, and also from liberal activist judges who abuse their sentencing discretion to let offenders off the hook. Federal sentencing guidelines for these heinous crimes are critical, and I am proud to support this good bill to ensure guidelines are strictly enforced,” said Scott.

The bill is named after the “PROTECT Act of 2003,” which was similar to legislation the Senate passed 84-0 in 2003.

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