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Drunken drivers who kill parents could soon face child support obligations

By: - February 6, 2024 4:05 pm
Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls, speaks on the House floor on Jan. 16, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls, speaks on the state House floor on Jan. 16, 2024. (Makenzie Huber/South Dakota Searchlight)

Inebriated drivers who kill parents with their vehicles would be on the hook for child support under a bill that cleared the state House of Representatives 67-0 Tuesday afternoon.

House Bill 1195, from Rep. Kadyn Wittman, D-Sioux Falls, is one of several similar bills debated in statehouses across the U.S. in recent years. 

Wittman’s bill would allow judges to order child support payments in vehicular homicide cases when the victims are parents. A civil court judgment against the same defendant would offset the court-ordered child support costs in a criminal case. 

Payments would pause for defendants while they’re in prison if they’re unable to pay, but the total cost of child support would remain for defendants until paid in full, even after the child turns 18. 

The House Judiciary Committee passed the bill unanimously on Friday morning.

The legislation, known as “Bentley’s Law,” was first passed in Tennessee in 2023. It has been enacted in Texas, Maine and Kentucky, and introduced in more than 20 other states.

Arizona is among the states debating the measure. One Republican state representative from Scottsdale named Alex Kolodin expressed concern that the child support provision could make it more difficult for parents to be paid by insurance companies. 

The “doctrine of double recovery” would keep parents who collect insurance payments after a death by vehicular homicide from also collecting child support, Kolodin said. The Arizona bill nonetheless passed through a House of Representatives committee, where its sponsor pledged to amend the bill as needed to address concerns about the potential interplay of insurance awards and criminal sentences.

That particular issue was not part of Tuesday’s House floor debate in Pierre. Wittman offered an amendment to the bill on the House floor to clarify that the payments would be classified as “restitution” and not child support.

The bill “sends a powerful message” about drunken driving and the importance of supporting victims, Wittman said. 

— The Arizona Mirror’s Leah Britton contributed to this report

 

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John Hult
John Hult

John is the senior reporter for South Dakota Searchlight. He has more than 15 years experience covering criminal justice, the environment and public affairs in South Dakota, including more than a decade at the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

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