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Tennessee Legislature passes bill that would require drunk drivers to pay child support if they kill a parent

If signed into law, it would be the first state to hold convicted drunk drivers financially responsible for the children of their victims.
Hand on steering wheel at night
If signed by Gov. Bill Lee, offenders would have to pay “child maintenance” until the victim’s child turns 18.Cris Cantón / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

The Tennessee Legislature has passed a bill that would require convicted drunk drivers to pay child support to the children of their victims.

The bill, which passed the Senate unanimously on Wednesday, would require a person to pay child support if they were convicted of vehicular homicide, intoxication or aggravated vehicular homicide while driving under the influence if the victim was a parent.

If signed by Gov. Bill Lee, offenders would have to pay “child maintenance” until the victim’s child turns 18.

The bill leaves it up to the court to determine what’s “reasonable and necessary” in terms of payments, taking into consideration factors like the financial needs and resources of the child and their surviving parent or guardian as well as “the standard of living to which the child is accustomed.”

The bill is named “Ethan’s, Hailey’s, and Bentley’s Law,” after three children whose parents were killed by drunk drivers, East Tennessee NBC affiliate WBIR reported.

Ethan and Hailey are the children of Chattanooga police officer Nicholas Galinger, who was struck and killed in 2019 by a woman driving while intoxicated. Bentley is the orphaned 5-year-old grandchild of Cecilia Williams, a Missouri woman who lost her son, daughter-in-law, and four-month-old grandchild in a DUI crash.

Williams initially launched her campaign for restitution in Missouri and attracted the attention of Tennessee lawmakers.

The state House and Senate passed different versions of the bill, so it now returns to the House for consideration.

If passed and signed by the governor, the Tennessee bill would be the first law to hold convicted drunk drivers financially responsible for children of their victims.

Casey Black, the press secretary for Lee, said in an email on Saturday to TODAY that they will "review (the) final legislation when it reaches the Governor’s desk."

Tennessee Rep. Mike Hall, one of the bill’s sponsors, said in a post on Facebook that he believes the legislation would protect “the future of our most valuable resources, our children.”

“Tennesseans care for each other and we will... do everything in our power to hold people accountable who chose to do harm.”