Drunken drivers take a staggering toll on their victims’ children, but a new law in GOP-led Texas has now introduced a mighty new punishment — as it obliges the culprits to own up to their crimes by paying child support if they kill a child’s parent or legal guardian.
The new legislation, which many say is radical but also welcome, went into effect in the Lone Star State on Friday, September 1, 2023.
The so-called Bentley’s Law, also officially dubbed Texas House Bill 393, was filed to the state legislature’s lower chamber last November.
It took several months to end up on the desk of the state’s Republican Governor, Greg Abbott, who signed it on June 2 of this year, The New York Post reports.
Under Bentley’s Law, any drunken driver who causes a crash resulting in the death of a parent or a guardian of an underage child becomes liable to paying child support.
“Any time a parent passes is tragic, but a death at the hands of a drunk driver is especially heinous,” Governor Abbott declared in an X post.
Any time a parent passes is tragic, but a death at the hands of a drunk driver is especially heinous.— Greg Abbott (@GregAbbott_TX) July 25, 2023
I was proud to sign HB 393 into law this year to require offenders to pay child support for the children of their victims.pic.twitter.com/zpNJtRj50h
Young Boy and His Grandmother
As per the new Texas law, a convict found guilty of the intoxicated manslaughter of a child’s parent or legal guardian can be sentenced to pay child support to the minor until the latter turns 18 or graduates from high school.
Bentley’s Law is named after a young boy who lost his entire family because of a drunken driver and was initiated by his grandmother, Cecilia Williams, who had to adopt him and seek justice.
An intoxicated individual killed Bentley’s parents, Cordell Shawn Michael Williams and Lacey Newton, together with his four-month-old brother in April 2021.
Failed in Missouri but Made It in Texas
The boy’s family is from Missouri, and a Bentley’s Law bill was considered but rejected by the legislature of The Show-Me State.
The bill failed to pass over what seemed to be “practical concerns” by the state lawmakers, Jed Silverman Law notes, as critics said whenever convicted drunken drivers could not pay their potential court-ordered child support, the money would have to come from the taxpayers.
There were no such concerns in Texas, though. In fact, the bipartisan consensus there was so robust that both houses of the state legislature passed the bill unanimously – 142-0 at the state House of Representatives and 31-0 at the state Senate.
Even Kid’s Living Standard Considered
Bentley’s Law, now in force in the Lone Star State, empowers the court to determine a monthly child support amount that an intoxicated manslaughter victim has to pay to their victim’s child.
The court is allowed to consider various factors when making such a vital decision — including medical, educational, and childcare needs, and even the kid’s standard of living before the fatal traffic incident that left them an orphan.
HB 393 obliges the convict to start making child support payments within the first year after their release from prison. It even stipulates the option of a payment plan in case of “any arrearage” that they can’t cover immediately.
Moreover, the convict “must pay all arrearages” even if the payments expired while they were in a correctional facility.
Little Bentley Crying for Mom and Dad
Cecilia Williams, the Missouri grandmother now caring after Bentley and another grandchild, Mason, told Fox7 Austin that drunken drivers who orphan children must be held accountable.
“It’s hard on us as it is, so then we get the double, triple, one thousand heartaches because we have to watch them suffer as well. I believe that it hit Bentley harder now than in the beginning. He cries a lot, he cries a lot. He’ll say I miss my mom and dad,” Williams said.
‘Food on the Table’
In her work with state legislators, she pushed for “child restitution” as a way to punish the culprits while also providing some relief to the affected kids over their loss.
“Child restitution. That’s how they pay. They have to pay for the consequences of their actions and this is the only way to do it because these kids, they have no parents anymore, their parents are gone, and that’s unfair,” Williams said.
She insisted the law now named after her underage grandson will achieve some justice, including by helping “families put food on the table for these extra mouths that they have to feed.”
Ruin and Bankruptcy
A report by ABC13 tells the story of another grandmother, Mindy Red, who had to adopt her grandson, AJ, after her daughter was killed by a drunk driver in 2009.
The aftermath of the traffic incident, however, brought more tragedy to her family as they received no financial compensation whatsoever from the perpetrator.
She lost her job because of all the absences to be in court and look after AJ, after which the family lost their house and one of their cars and saw themselves forced to declare bankruptcy.
“The victim is the one that is constantly paying financially and emotionally,” Red emphasized, adding her hope the new Texas law would be a deterrent to people who drink and drive.
‘Every State Needs This!’
Bentley’s Law was primarily welcomed by social media users who shared the news outlet across various platforms.
“Excellent. Texas, Doing the RIGHT THING,” commented an X user called Just a Hard Working American.
“Why doesn’t every state do this?” wondered a user named CTOtim, posting a link to the story about the new law.
“This is wonderful. Accountability,” wrote Patricia Walker, while a user profile named AngryConservative gave the news a thumbs-up and clapping hands emoji.
“These are the kind of laws we need in Canada,” observed a user named Dr. Dave Killhouse.
Overwhelming Public Support
Criticism of the new Texas legislation has been limited to some wondering whether the sustained practice would be as promising as it sounds.
Some lawyers have cautioned that hefty payments might ruin the chances of ex-cons to rebuild their lives. At the same time, some social media users noted the lack of clarity regarding the court’s right to consider a child’s existing standard of living.
All in all, however, there seems to be overwhelming public support for Bentley’s Law, and Bentley’s grandmother has vowed to campaign for such legislation in all 50 states.
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This article was produced and syndicated by TPR Teaching. Source.
Caitriona Maria is an education writer and founder of TPR Teaching, crafting inspiring pieces that promote the importance of developing new skills. For 7 years, she has been committed to providing students with the best learning opportunities possible, both domestically and abroad. Dedicated to unlocking students' potential, Caitriona has taught English in several countries and continues to explore new cultures through her travels.