Lawmakers in Tennessee this week approved a bill that would force drunk drivers who kill a parent to pay child support to the minor children they leave behind.
Families who lose loved ones can already pursue the avenue through civil cases, but House Bill 1834 would enable criminal courts to order a defendant to pay restitution with similar guidelines as child support.
“This legislation takes the shackles off of the [district attorney] and the judges,” state Rep. Mark Hall, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, said on the House of Representatives floor before its passage.
“I wish we’d have thought of it years ago … because there are children growing up all over this state that don’t have a parent to tuck them in at night, to pay for their food and lodging, to help care for them throughout their childhood due to the selfish, selfish decisions of someone else,” added state Rep. William Lamberg, a Republican. “I think it’s extremely appropriate that they should have to pay child support for the child whose parents they took.”
The state House passed the bill 93–0 on Feb. 28 and the state Senate approved it unanimously on April 20.
A spokesperson for Gov. Bill Lee, a Republican, told The Epoch Times in an email that the office is waiting for the legislation to be discharged and make it to the governor’s desk before reviewing it.
Under the bill, a judge can only order restitution if a drunk driver who kills a parent is convicted of committing vehicular homicide or aggravated vehicular homicide while intoxicated.
The bill states that a judge shall determine a payment “that is reasonable and necessary for the maintenance of the victim’s child after considering all relevant factors,” including the financial needs and resources of the child and the standard of living to which the child is accustomed.
The bill was inspired by legislation introduced in Missouri earlier this year. It is named for Bentley, whose father and mother were killed by a drunk driver in 2021, the boy’s grandmother told KY3.
Before passing the bill, senators in Tennessee amended it to add two additional names, Hailey and Ethan. They are the children of Chattanooga police officer Nicholas Galinger, who was killed by a drunk driver who was later sentenced to 11 years in prison.
The addition of the names came on the request of the family, according to state Sen. Mike Bell, a Republican.