FORT MILL, S.C. — New legislation has been introduced in South Carolina that would make convicted drunk drivers financially responsible if they kill a child's parent or guardian.
House Bill 5299 was introduced April 27 and currently remains in committee.
According to the bill summary, any person convicted of reckless vehicular homicide while under the influence of alcohol or any other drug and kills the parent or guardian of a child would have to pay restitution in the form of child support until the child turns 18 years old or graduates high school. This also includes a person who drives under the influence operating a boat or another water vehicle and kills a child's parent or guardian.
The basis for this legislation first began in Missouri when Cecilia Williams says she lost her son, soon-to-be daughter-in-law, and 4-month-old grandson all killed in a drunk driving crash in April 2021.
“Our lives are forever changed, they’re forever different," Williams said. "There’s that emptiness.”
Williams soon decided to create Bentley's Law in honor of her oldest grandson who is now left without both of his parents. She hopes forcing offenders to pay child support will help make a difference.
“It’s going to be a reminder to them when that money comes out how bad they affected a family — the kids especially," Williams said. “You ruin so many people and you ruin your own life and it’s not worth taking a chance.”
Now Williams has begun taking her efforts for change nationwide. South Carolina Rep. West Cox (R - District 10) said he found out about Tennessee passing a similar law recently and wanted to bring it to the state.
"DUI is a problem, no matter what, in any community," he explained to WCNC Charlotte during a Zoom interview on Thursday, May 5. "This certainly won't fix that, it won't necessarily deter it, but maybe this will help take care of those children that are left behind in these types of situations."
He said the reception to the proposed legislation has been positive and hopes South Carolina can be a leading state for the initiative.
While the support is there, Cox added the legislation passing this year may be minimal due to the House's session ending in a week.
"The likelihood of this passing this year is almost zero," he added. "Right now, we're trying to build support so when we return to Columbia in January, it'll be a top priority. It'll definitely be one of my top priorities then."
The house bill remains in committee at this time.
You can read the full bill summary below:
"A BILL TO AMEND THE CODE OF LAWS OF SOUTH CAROLINA, 1976, BY ADDING SECTION 56-5-2937 SO AS TO PROVIDE PERSONS CONVICTED OF RECKLESS VEHICULAR HOMICIDE WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL OR ANY OTHER DRUG OR COMBINATION OF DRUGS, OR CONVICTED OF RECKLESS VEHICULAR HOMICIDE AND HAD AT LEAST ONE PRIOR CONVICTION FOR DRIVING MOTOR VEHICLES UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL, ANY OTHER DRUG, OR A COMBINATION OF OTHER DRUGS OR SUBSTANCES, OR DRIVING MOTOR VEHICLES WITH AN UNLAWFUL ALCOHOL CONCENTRATION AND WHOSE VICTIMS WERE PARENTS OF MINOR CHILDREN, MUST PAY RESTITUTION IN THE FORM OF CHILD MAINTENANCE TO EACH OF THE VICTIMS' CHILDREN UNTIL EACH CHILD REACHES EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE AND HAS GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL; AND BY ADDING SECTION 50-21-118 SO AS TO PROVIDE PERSONS CONVICTED OF OPERATING MOVING WATER DEVICES WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL OR DRUGS WHEN DEATH RESULTS, OR RECKLESS HOMICIDE WHILE UNDER THE INFLUENCE OF ALCOHOL OR DRUGS AND WHOSE VICTIMS WERE PARENTS OF MINOR CHILDREN, MUST PAY RESTITUTION IN THE FORM OF CHILD MAINTENANCE TO EACH OF THE VICTIMS' CHILDREN UNTIL EACH CHILD REACHES EIGHTEEN YEARS OF AGE AND HAS GRADUATED FROM HIGH SCHOOL."
A similar bill was also proposed in the South Carolina Senate on April 28.
Three of the sponsors for the senate bill include Rep. Wes Climer (R - York County), Sen. Michael Johnson (R - Lancaster and York counties) and Sen. Mike Fanning (D - Chester, Fairfield and York counties).
That bill also remains in committee.