MONTGOMERY, Ala. (CN) — A bill recently introduced in the Alabama Legislature would make drunken drivers who kill a parent responsible for paying support for any children of the deceased.
State Representative Proncey Robertson, a Mount Hope Republican, sponsored House Bill 114, also known as the DUI and Child Compensation and Recovery Act, after hearing about a similar bill in Missouri spearheaded by a grandmother whose son, his fiancée and their child were killed by a drunken driver.
The grandmother, Cecilia Williams, has been left to raise her two other grandchildren and the Missouri legislation, Bentley’s Law, is named after one of her grandchildren. On the Bentley’s Law Facebook page, Williams explained that while victims can sue the offender, if the person has no insurance or assets then families are left with nothing. But if offenders have their wages garnished, she wrote, “it will always be a constant reminder to the offender of what the person actions has (sic) caused, because let’s be honest when you hit a person in the pockets that is what will make a change and it just may keep them from being a repeat offender.”
Robertson told Courthouse News that he wanted to introduce his bill after reading about Bentley’s Law and talking to Williams about her situation. While he agrees that victims can sue in civil court, “They may or may not see a dime. My idea is to do something within the criminal code that would add another piece to the criminal charge.”
“Child support procedures are usually civil matters and normally a criminal judge would not award child support," Robertson said. "This law would give judges the ability to support the children left behind.”
The Alabama bill states that any person convicted of driving under the influence of alcohol or controlled substances responsible for the death of a parent or guardian shall be required to pay child support until the child reaches 19 years old.
The amount due would be determined by the court based on several factors, including the financial resources and needs of the child and surviving parent, the standard of living the child would have enjoyed, the physical and emotional condition of the child, and “reasonable” work-related child care expenses of the surviving parent.
According to the bill, the driver shall be subject to income withholding and if the driver is incarcerated and unable to pay the support, “the individual shall have up to one year after release from incarceration to begin payment, including any arrearage.” Even if the child turns 19 before the obligation is paid in full, the driver must continue to make payments until all amounts due are paid.
Robertson hopes his bill will act as a deterrent and says we don’t do enough for the victims left behind.
“We need to focus more on the victims of these crimes. There should be some way to protect the children who are left without parents and the financial stability they had,” he said. “Once someone is convicted, we don’t hear about the victims anymore. If you cause this kind of tragedy, then you should have more responsibility for the victims."
He added, "I worked in law enforcement for 27 years and I know about the victims left behind. The family members, the extended friends, they suffer for a long time.”
While Robertson said he isn't sure his bill will pass during the short Alabama legislative session that ends April 7, he said he would introduce the bill again next spring if he is reelected in November. If he doesn't win, he said he would find another representative to continue his work.
Bentley’s Law recently passed in Tennessee House and Senate and is awaiting Governor Bill Lee's signature.
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