A new bill moving through the Tennessee legislature this week presents a bold, new idea to protect young children whose parent or parents are killed by a drunk driver.
What are the details?
House Bill 1834, also known as "Bentley's Law," proposes holding drunk drivers convicted of killing a parent responsible for their actions by requiring them to pay child support for the surviving children until they turn 18 years old and have graduated from high school.
In cases where the defendant is incarcerated and can't pay, the defendant is given up to one year after their release from prison to begin payments, the bill states. And if the child reaches 18 years of age but hasn't been paid in full, the defendant is ordered to continue payments until the child is fully compensated.
Under the law, a sentencing judge would set the payment amounts with respect to the child's financial needs, the resources of the surviving parent or guardian, and the standard of living to which the child is accustomed, among other factors.
On Monday, the bill unanimously passed the state House of Representatives and will now move on to the Senate, WZTV-TV reported.
What's the background?
The idea for the bill originally came from Cecilia Williams, a Missouri grandmother whose son, daughter-in-law, and four-month-old grandson were killed by a drunk driver last spring. Williams named the bill after her 5-year-old grandson, Bentley, who lost both of his parents in the tragic car accident.
When Williams' cousin and Tennessee resident Diane Sutton heard the idea, she decided to bring it to her local lawmaker, state Rep. Mark Hall. Soon after, Hall introduced the bill in the state legislature.
Tennessee would be the first state to put such a law on its books if passed by the Senate and signed by the governor, but other states are reportedly considering adopting the law, as well.
Sutton told WZTV she hopes the law will soon be in place "nationwide," and Hall added that the law "sends a message that drunk driving in the state of Tennessee is no longer tolerated."
Williams celebrated the law's passage in the Tennessee House this week, saying she hopes the law will not only protect children who lose their parents but act as a deterrent for offenders.
"The one thing people value most in this world is money, and when you hit them in the pockets they’re going to change," she said.
Elsewhere, she said of drunk driving offenders, "They will always remember, this is what I did to the family, you know, and it will sink into them. I can't do this again. You know, I'm supporting children that aren't mine."
Here's more on the law:
Proposed 'Bentley's Law' in Missouri would make drunk drivers pay child support if parent is killed www.youtube.com