Texas lawmakers debate 'Bentley's Law' to deter drunk driving
AUSTIN, Texas - State lawmakers in Texas are debating whether drunk drivers who kill someone’s parent, should have to pay child support to their family.
The proposal is called "Bentley’s Law," and supporters, led by Mothers Against Drunk Driving, held a press conference at the Texas Capitol late Tuesday.
"Just waking up every day knowing nobody’s there to say ‘good morning, goodnight’," said Skylar Arner from Leander.
Arner was just eight years old when her mother, 28-year-old Kimberly Allen, was killed by a drunk driver near Lake Brownwood.
"Well, her first thought was my mom’s not going to be able to see my next birthday, or celebrate Christmas or Thanksgiving," said Arner’s grandmother and Allen’s mother, Crystena Schneider.
Now 11 years old, and being raised by her grandmother, Arner says she misses her mom every day.
"You don’t have anybody to go to just say ‘hey, mom’," said Arner. "You don’t have anybody."
Bentley’s Law aims to support these broken families by requiring people convicted in deadly DWI crashes to pay restitution. Those payments would begin a year after the defendant is released from prison, and continue until all the victim’s surviving children turn 18.
"Applying the current child support framework that is utilized in child custody cases, to impaired drivers who kill somebody," explained Frank Harris, Director of State Government Affairs for Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
Erin Bowers lost both of her parents to a drunk driver in 1985.
"This is what we got left, was a $50 bill that was in my dad's wallet. And if you look closely on the back, you can see the blood. That's all we have left. And so for me this is why Bentley’s Law is so important," said Bowers.
Modeled after a bill in Missouri, and backed by Republicans and Democrats in Texas, the Texas House version of Bentley’s Law just passed unanimously out of committee.
"While true justice comes only from the lord, the state can provide partial justice," said Republican State Rep. Cody Vasut of Angleton.
Supporters of Bentley’s Law say it’s not just about doing right by victims’ families, but it’s about deterring drunk people from getting behind the wheel in the first place.
"Ultimately, we hope people think twice before getting behind the wheel while impaired because drunk driving is a choice," said Tess Rowland, national president of Mothers Against Drunk Driving.
"Every time that money comes out of their paycheck, it’ll remind them ‘I took somebody’s parent’," said Arner.
A similar law has already passed in Tennessee, and bills like this are currently under consideration in about a dozen other states. In Texas, supporters hope to get it passed this session.