‘Bentley’s Law’ would mandate child maintenance for children whose parents die in DUI crashes

      People who are convicted of killing a parent or parents while driving drunk in Missouri could have to pay child support to surviving children, under a proposal now before a House committee. 

Representative Mike Henderson (Photo: Tim Bommel, Missouri House Communications)

      House Bill 1954 is also known as “Bentley’s Law.”  It would require that such convicted persons would have to pay maintenance to surviving children until they turn 18, or if they enroll in college, until they complete a degree or turn 21. 

      The bill specifies that a judge weighing a maintenance order should consider the financial needs of the children; the resources of the children’s caregivers, if any; the standard of living the children would have had; the children’s physical and emotional condition and needs; their physical and legal custody arrangements; and any child care expenses of surviving caregivers.

      Sponsor Mike Henderson (R-Bonne Terre) said the bill is about making sure children in this situation are taken care of.

      “Right now they have civil action they can take.  We all know that, but we also know one out of every seven drivers on the road are uninsured … so if you’re going to take civil action it’s usually with the insurance company … this bill doesn’t take away the civil action … but it gives them a chance to try to apply for child maintenance for the children left behind,” said Henderson.  “We’re not trying to put everybody back in prison … but just trying to get them to take some responsibility for these kids as they move forward.”

      Henderson was presented the idea for Bentley’s Law by Cecelia Williams.  In April of last year her son, his fiancée, and their 4 month-old son were killed in an accident involving an allegedly drunk driver.  She named the proposal after one of their surviving children, whom she is now raising. 

She told the House Committee on Crime Prevention that after the accident she did some research and found what she called a “ton” of repeat offenders.

      “It does not seem to stop.  I see people who will go to prison, they come back out and they’re a repeat offender again and they don’t learn.”

      “I wanted to make sure that these children who don’t have their families were going to have that financial stability for them, so that when they go on in life, even going to further their career that that money was going to be there for them,” said Williams.  “By creating Bentley’s Law I believe that’s what’s going to help the children and it’s going to help people to think twice and not do it again.”

      The committee also heard from Jennifer Wamsganz, Program Director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving in Missouri.

“Bentley’s Law better ensures justice and accountability for convicted impaired drivers.   MADD believes that passing Bentley’s Law will make people think twice before getting behind the wheel impaired.  If a person makes the choice to drive impaired and kills a parent the person will encounter another consequence for their deadly decision. 

      “To the victims of impaired drivers Bentley’s Law allows for another avenue of restitution to help injustice.”

      Committee chairman Lane Roberts (R-Joplin) told Henderson, “Civil remedies not withstanding there are many, many opportunities to escape responsibility by these drivers.  What really intrigues me about your bill is it gives the state a role in ensuring that those responsibilities are met.”

      The bill specifies that if surviving parents or guardians bring a civil suit against the person convicted of drunk driving, no maintenance will be ordered or it will be offset by any civil award that is granted.

      The committee is scheduled to vote next week on that bill.