(The Center Square) – Oklahoma could become the latest state to saddle a drunk driver who kills a child’s parents with the financial responsibility for the orphaned youth.
Rep Jim Olsen, R-Roland, says that House Bill 1003 could create a harsher reality for those who chose to get behind the wheel while intoxicated and cause the death of a parent in a DUI-related crash in the Sooner State.
Olson said the bill mirrors stricter DUI-related legislation being advanced in other states, more commonly known as “Bentley’s Law,” named after a Missouri child whose parents were tragically killed by a drunk driver.
“What this bill does is attempt to hold people accountable if they make a very bad decision to drive drunk and out of the consequence of someone’s decision to drive drunk, they kill parents or a parent,” Olsen told The Center Square. “Put more plainly, we don’t want people going around driving drunk, but if you make that decision [then] okay, you then get to participate in the expense of raising that child or those children, who lost a parent as a consequence of your actions, until they are at least 18.”
Child support payments could be extended to the age of 21 if the child is actively attending post-secondary school.
The determination for child support is similar to other statutes for accessing the financial need basis of the child. These include evaluating the resources and needs of the children and any surviving parents, the child’s or children’s determined standard of living, and any physical, emotional and educational needs of the child or children.
“It’s a terrible, terrible thing when someone loses a parent, someone’s father or mother, a husband or wife, to something like this,” Olsen added. “This attempts to bring justice and restitution to the whole situation. While we can’t bring a parent back, we can try to bring restitution in the form of caring for the child.”
A nationwide initiative to enact similar laws was founded by Missouri grandmother Cecilia Williams, whose son, daughter-in-law and grandson were killed by an alleged drunk driver in April 2021, leaving Williams to care for her two young surviving grandchildren, Bentley and Mason, without financial assistance.
Tennessee became the first state to pass a “Bentley’s Law” on April 20, 2022. 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.
Additionally, several other states, including New York, Texas, Alabama, Missouri, and Connecticut, have been working on drafting similar “Bentley’s Law” bills for the 2023 legislation season.
The Oklahoma Legislature will consider the bill when it convenes on Feb. 6.
“While it’s always hard to say…I honestly cannot think of any real good opposition to this bill and to why someone would be opposed to it,” Olsen said. “Honestly, I think it has got a good chance of making it to the governor’s desk.”