Tennessee is in the process of passing a bill that would require drivers convicted of vehicular homicide due to intoxication, or aggravated vehicular homicide, to pay child support on behalf of their victims if they were the parent of a minor. The bill passed the State Senate with unanimous support on Wednesday. Lawmakers said drunk drivers need to be held accountable if they kill a parent with young children. They argue these kids will need additional financial support if their parent or guardian dies in an auto accident through no fault of their own.
Paying Their Debt to Society
If a driver is convicted of killing a parent with a child under the age of 18, they will need to pay child support until the child comes of age.
Under the new bill, the courts would decide how much the driver would have to pay in child support on a case-by-case basis, depending on the circumstances of the child and their living arrangement.
Defendants are required to pay while they are serving time in prison. If they can’t pay while they are incarcerated, they have one year after being released to begin making payments.
“A parent is responsible for the education and upbringing of that child and when then that parent removed from the home over something so, in my opinion, foolish where we drink and drive and take the life of an innocent then someone needs to be responsible for the upbringing of those children,” said State Rep. Mark White, a Republican.
The bill, known as “Bentley’s Law,” is named after a young Missouri girl that lost both of her parents in a drunk driving accident. She is now being raised by her grandmother, Cecilia Williams, who’s become a fierce advocate for the bill.
“It will always be a constant reminder to the offender of what the person’s actions have caused,” Williams said.
Cecilia’s son Cordell Williams, 30, his fiancé, Lacey Newton, 25, and their 4-month-old son, Cordell Shawn Michael Williams, were killed in a drunk driving accident in April 2021 when their car was rear-ended, forcing their vehicle off the road and into a tree where it also caught on fire, according to local police.
Moments before the bill passed the State Senate, lawmakers changed the name to “Ethan’s, Hailey’s, and Bentley’s Law,” to include the children of a Tennessee police officer who was killed in 2019 in a hit-in-run by a drunk driver.
The bill previously passed unanimously through the State House of Representatives and the governor is expected to sign it into law later this month. Other states could follow in Tennessee’s footsteps if the bill is seen as a success.
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that around 28 people die in drunk driving accidents every day in the U.S. That comes out to around 10,000 fatalities a year.
The bill lists several reasons why the drunk driver should be on the hook for child support. These payments may go towards maintaining the child’s standard of living, the financial resources and needs of the child, as well as the financial needs of the surviving parent or guardian of the child, the bill notes.