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Brad Matthews


NextImg:Texans guilty of intoxicated manslaughter must pay child support under new law

Under a new state law that went into effect Friday, Texas motorists who are convicted of intoxicated manslaughter that kill a child’s parent or parents in the crash will now have to pay child support.

The new law stipulates that the court will determine how much a victim’s child is owed each month until the child turns 18 or graduates high school, whichever date comes later.

The amount of financial restitution, the law’s text reads, is determined by the monetary needs of the child and the child’s guardian, the child’s previous standard of living, the child’s physical and emotional state and educational needs, the child’s residential and custodial situation, and the childcare expenses of the child’s guardian.

If the defendant cannot pay due to being imprisoned, they will have to start payments no more than one year after being released. The law also allows defendants to enter into payment plans; any arrears left upon release will have to be paid, even if the restitution end date passed while the defendant was imprisoned.

Texas House Bill 393 was signed into law by Governor Greg Abbott in June. Under Texas criminal law, intoxicated manslaughter also refers to deaths caused by drunk airplane and boat pilots, as well as amusement park ride operators.

In a post on X in late July, Gov. Abbott, a Republican, said “Any time a parent passes is tragic, but a death at the hands of a drunk driver is especially heinous. I was proud to sign HB 393 into law this year to require offenders to pay child support for the children of their victims.”

The Texas law is also known as “Bentley’s Law,” along with other similar statutes in other states. The name stems from Bentley Williams, a Missouri child left orphaned by a car crash on April 13, 2021.

Williams’ grandmother, Cecilia Williams, has been instrumental in promoting “Bentley’s Law”. While it has not yet been passed into law in Missouri, over 12 other states have introduced or have drafted similar legislation.

“These crashes are totally preventable, and I will continue to fight for change for all who have suffered from impaired drivers. Many families like mine suffer such a loss every second of every day, and Bentley’s Law will bring change to hold the offender accountable for such horrific actions,” Ms. Williams said in a statement as part of a Mothers Against Drunk Driving release.

Thus far, four states have passed laws requiring drunk drivers to pay restitution to the children of deceased victims. Tennessee was the first, with the law being signed in May 2022. An expanded Kentucky law that also requires restitution to be paid to children whose parent or guardian survived but with permanent injuries was signed in April 2023.

Texas’s law was signed on June 2, and a Maine equivalent was signed on June 23. Thus far, the push to pass “Bentley’s Law” has been thwarted in only one state — Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, vetoed a similar law on June 28, according to the MADD release.

• Brad Matthews can be reached at bmatthews@washingtontimes.com.