Arkansas lawmakers considering Bentley's law

Arkansas lawmakers are considering a bill requiring drunk drivers who kill parents to pay child support for their surviving children.

The Bentley's Law initiative was founded by Missouri grandmother Cecilia Williams, who cared for her grandchildren Bentley and Mason after their parents were killed in a drunk driving accident.

Rep. R.J. Hawk, R-Bryant, is the lead sponsor of Arkansas' version of the bill.

"Honestly, this law only makes sense," Hawk said in an email to The Center Square. "If a child loses a parent because of another person's reckless decision. Plus, I had two constituents in my district tell me about a spouse that was killed because of a drunk driver and/or drunk boater. They told me about the struggle it's been raising a family on a single-parent income."

The Arkansas bill also applies to anyone boating under the influence who kills parents of minor children in an accident.

"If you think of one of biggest places for alcohol, adults and children to mix, it's on the lakes and rivers in Arkansas,' Hawk said. "I felt like we shouldn't just limit this to drivers when alcohol accidents happen on the water as well."

House Bill 1131 requires a defendant ordered to pay child support but is incarcerated to begin paying a year after his or her release. Child support would not be ordered if a civil action is filed against the defendant and the surviving parent or guardian receives monetary damages.

The bill is assigned to the House Judiciary Committee and will be heard at their Tuesday meeting.

Oklahoma is considering a similar law in the upcoming legislative session.

Tennessee was the first state to pass a "Bentley's Law" on April 20, 2022, according to previous reports. The law in Tennessee, called "Ethan's, Hailey's and Bentley's Law," added the names of the surviving children of Nicholas Galinger, a Tennessee police officer killed by a hit-and-run drunk driver. Tennessee's bill also requires convicted DUI drivers to pay child support in fatal wrecks.

New York, Texas, Alabama, Missouri and Connecticut are other states considering similar laws this year.

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