The Tennessee General Assembly on Wednesday became what is believed to be the first state legislature to pass a bill that would require drunk drivers to pay child support if they kill a minor’s parent.
The bill, named “Ethan, Hailey and Bentley’s law” after children who lost their parents to drunk drivers, passed unanimously in the Senate on Wednesday and was passed unanimously in Parliament in February. The measure will be sent to Governor Bill Lee, who will review the legislation before deciding whether to sign it into law, a spokesman for the governor said.
“As I promised, I will do what it takes to protect the future of our most valuable resources, our children,” said Representative Mark Hall, who presented the bill, in a statement.
“The Tennesseans care about each other and we will do everything in our power to hold people accountable who have chosen to do harm,” he added.
The bill contains the names of the children of Nicholas Galinger, a police officer from Chattanooga who was beaten and killed three years ago by a drunk driver. He leaves behind two children, Ethan and Hailey.
The 38-year-old officer inspected a crowded manhole late one night in February 2019 when Janet Hinds hit him with her car and fled, according to The Associated Press. Ms Hinds was sentenced in February to 11 years in prison after being convicted of vehicle homicide due to intoxication.
If it is signed into law, the measure will require those convicted of such crimes involving the death of a parent to pay child support to the victim’s minor children. It will last until each child turns 18 and has graduated from high school, or until the class of which the child is a member when he or she turns 18 has graduated.
The courts would set a reasonable amount for child support by taking into account the child’s or children’s financial needs and resources, the surviving parent’s or guardian’s financial resources – including the state if the child is in custody of the child services department – and the standard of living the children are accustomed to. to.
Mr. Hall introduced the law in January after being contacted by Cecilia Williams, a Missouri grandmother who worked with lawmakers in her own state to write Bentley’s law, named after her 5-year-old granddaughter.
She got the idea for the bill after her son, his fiancée and the youngest of their children were killed by a drunk driver in April 2021. Her son, Cordell Williams, was survived by her two older children – Bentley, then 4, and Mason, 2.
While awaiting trial in the case, Ms. Williams to study the consequences of drink-driving and learned that in many states the potential prison sentence was a few years, and often the sentences ended early. She wanted to do something that “felt more fair.”
“The one thing people value most in this world is their money,” she said in an interview Thursday. She believed that if the consequences of drunk driving were more long-term and financially tangible, they would give pause to those who had to drive drunk driving.
“There’s some justice there,” she said. “Families are going to get the compensation they deserve and still should have been able to get from their parents. We are all more than willing to raise the children who are left behind, but the problem with that is not everyone is financially stable. ”
Since the crash, Ms. Williams cared for his grandson and has worked with 17 states to enact Bentley’s law in their legislative assemblies. Tennessee is the first state to get the bill through both houses, she said.
Representatives in states such as Pennsylvania, Alabama, Illinois, Oklahoma and Louisiana are reading and voting on their versions.