Tennessee’s Lawmakers Pass Bill to Hold Drunk Drivers Accountable on A Whole New Level

America is a nation based on the rule of law. This crucial basis is founded on the common sense concept that poor action should have repercussions. Criminals who violate the law must be held accountable in some way.

These consequences should be tailored to the crime. Consequences are thus a type of deterrent to poor action. "Do the crime, do the time," as the wise saying goes. Similarly, there are some infractions that can be corrected with monetary fines.

Our judicial system frequently employs a combination of the two. A new law has just been introduced in Tennessee to address one such occurrence. Drunk driving is no longer tolerated in our society. It is quite hazardous.

Anyone who insists otherwise should probably attend a meeting of a well-known worldwide fellowship. Driving drunk is both dangerous and stupid. Our elected lawmakers have written legislation to hold drunk drivers accountable.

But not all drunken driving cases are limited to weaving drivers getting pulled over by law enforcement. These drivers, despite the rather uncomfortable consequences they rightfully face, are the lucky ones. Sometimes, drunk drivers kill people.

These tragedies are the exclamation point that triggered the harsh drunk driving laws in the first place. Nonetheless, there were still gaps in the accountability for driving while intoxicated and killing another person, especially a parent of a minor. Many cases are negligent homicide.

But what happens to the families of the victims? Who will compensate them for their loss? What about a parent who is now left with the arduous chore of raising a family alone? Regardless of how much prison time a driver gets, the single parent faces financial hardship.

This hardship could last for years. Tennessee’s lawmakers appreciate that no one can bring the parents back. But a new Tennessee law will ensure that a single father or mother doesn’t bear the financial responsibility caused by the careless ignorance of a drunk driver.

Convicted drunk drivers in the state of Tennessee who kill the parent of a child or children will pay child support to the surviving parent. The Tennessee Senate passed the bill on Wednesday. HB 1834 is called “Ethan’s, Hailey’s, and Bentley’s Law.”

After passing the Tennessee House, the Senate sent the bill to Republican Governor Bill Lee’s desk for his signature. There is no indication Lee has any intention of not signing the bill into law. To most people, the law is a fair and just penalty for driving drunk and killing a parent.

One key event triggering the bill was the death of a former Chattanooga police officer. While on duty, Officer Nicholas Galinger was killed by a drunk driver in February 2019. Logically, the bill must accompany a conviction for vehicular homicide due to intoxication.

This is an understandable stipulation that requires someone to pay for their crime. The law does not make the payments optional. As read, HB 1834 says, “the sentencing court must make the defendant pay restitution in the form of child maintenance to each of the victim’s children.”

Furthermore, the bill specifies that “the payments would continue until each of the children turns 18 years old and graduates from high school, or the class in which the child is a member when the child reached 18 years of age has graduated.”

In each individual case, the court will be further entrusted with determining the financial needs and resources of the child. As well, the financial needs of the child or children’s guardian or surviving parent will be assessed.

This isn’t simply a law that will automatically trigger some form of child support payment. Nevertheless, it puts in place a mechanism for leveling any financial burden triggered by a violation of the law back on the person who committed the offense.

Despite the tragedy, Officer Galinger’s death was instrumental in this new law. Janet Hinds was intoxicated when she struck and killed Galinger. She was found guilty of vehicular homicide and sentenced to 11 years in prison. The maximum sentence in her case could have been 15 years.

While Hinds regretted her responsibility for causing a horrific tragedy, even though it was not intentional, the fact is that she was responsible. This was not her first drunken driving charge, either. Hinds didn’t stop because she was so drunk she didn’t realize she had hit someone.

While her heartfelt apologies were certainly genuine, they could not bring back the father figure in these children’s lives. In addition, the apologies will not help much when a single mother must struggle with financial hardships she otherwise would not have been forced to endure.

Tennessee House Bill 1834 will correct this injustice. Drinking and driving is both stupid and dangerous. To think otherwise is selfish. Sometimes, when people drive drunk, other people get killed. There are consequences for drunk driving, as well there should be.

But at least in the state of Tennessee, the punishment now more closely fits the crime. If you drink and drive, killing the parent of a minor child, in Tennessee you will be ordered to assume the financial obligations of the life you took. Good for Tennessee.

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