UPDATE: Law Requiring Drunk Drivers to Pay Victim’s Children in the Event of a Fatality Passes TN Senate
Back in early February 2022, we learned that HB 1834 was unanimously passed by the Tennessee House. The bill referred to as Bentley's Law was championed by Cecilia Williams, the grandmother of 5-year-old Bentley, who was orphaned when both of his parents were killed by a drunk driver in April 2021.
What is Bentley's Law?
You can read all of the HB 1834 legalese here if you want to, or you can let me just summarize it in layman's terms. It basically states that if you drive drunk and you kill someone who is a parent, you will be ordered to pay child support to any of those children until they are 18 years old.
What if a defendant can't afford to make payments because they are locked up? Don't worry, those payments will be right there waiting when the defendant gets released. He or she will have up to one year following their release to start making payments. The bill also states that if the child hasn't been fully paid by the time they reach 18 years of age, those payments will continue until they are paid in full.
UPDATE: HB 1834 Has Passed the TN Senate
On Wednesday, April 21, 2022, the bill passed through the Tennessee Senate. It was amended to include the children of another drunk driving victim - Officer Nicholas Galinger. The 38-year-old rookie police officer was struck by a drunk driver and killed back in 2019. The woman driving the vehicle fled the scene but was eventually taken into custody and has since been sentenced to 11 years in prison.
Do Other States Have Similar Laws?
In Cecilia's home state of Missouri, they have an existing statute that requires drunk drivers to make a one-time payment to the families of their victims. Bentley's Law has found its way to Alabama and has been proposed to lawmakers there. Now that this law has been passed in Tennessee, I would not be surprised to see it being adopted by other states. Bentley's Law just makes too much sense for it NOT to be on the books in every state.
Social Media Reactions
I've already said how I feel about Bentley's Law, but I'm curious about how others have reacted to the news. I was surprised (although nothing should surprise me at this point) by some of the comments I saw on the WZTV Facebook page, both for and against Bentley's Law.
"Well-intentioned law but stupid. There are already multiple ways to hold them responsible financially. First an Insurance settlement and second a civil suit against the estate."
"This law should be adopted in every state!!!!"
"Once they serve time for vehicular homicide and driving under the influence how much child support will they actually pay? I love the idea but it will just be a small amount of money reminding the victims what happened at every payment."
"What a great law!! It should be made law in EVERY state!!!! And it should include reckless drivers and street racers as well!!"