By MADDISON BOOTH, Alabama Daily News
MONTGOMERY, Ala. – A bill in the Alabama House would require people convicted of driving under the influence to pay child support if that act led to the death of a child’s parent or guardian.
House Bill 114, the DUI and Child Compensation and Recovery Act, is sponsored by Rep. Proncey Robertson, R- Mt. Hope.
Robertson said he wanted to bring this bill after seeing similar legislation introduced last year in Missouri.
“We have these children that have been orphaned,” said Robertson, a former Decatur City Police officer. “And now they’re immediately left without.”
In 2020, there were 155 fatal DUI wrecks statewide resulting in 166 deaths, according to information from the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency and the Center for Advanced Public Safety at the University of Alabama.
“I think it’s important for that kid to have stability,” said Rep. Parker Moore, R-Hartselle, one of the bill’s co-sponsors.
Robertson’s bill would not require a child to have a new guardian for the support to be ordered. Even in the case where the child becomes a ward of the state, Robertson said his bill would hold the driver responsible for payments.
This aspect of the bill is important to co-sponsor, Rep. Jamie Kiel, R-Russellville.
“Should the child be the responsibility of the state or the remaining family, I believe the person who killed the parents should be responsible,” Kiel said.
In addition, if the driver is incarcerated, the DUI and Child Compensation and Recovery Act gives them one year to begin paying, and they must also pay the amount that accrued during their incarceration, even if the child is past 19 years of age. The penalty for a DUI-caused death in Alabama can range from one to 10 years in prison.
The amount of financial support would be decided by judges and determining factors could include the standard of living the child would have enjoyed had his or her parent not been killed and the resources of the surviving parent or guardian.
Robertson told Alabama Daily News that he has been talking with attorneys across the state and his bill does not impact’ families’ ability to bring civil lawsuits against drunk drivers.
“We don’t have an issue with the creation of child support under these circumstances,” Gina Coggin, president of the Alabama Association of Justice, told Alabama Daily News. “We do want to clarify that victims and family members of an accident caused by a driver under the influence can receive all they are entitled to under the law for the injuries, pain and loss caused by the wrongdoer.”
“(Victims) should always have that option,” Moore said, referring to the opportunity to sue.
The Alabama Association of Justice is working with Robertson on an amendment to make this option clear to victims.
The bill also stipulates that the child support cannot be paid by a third party, a concern that Robertson said may come up with insurance companies.
The DUI and Child Compensation and Recovery Act has been assigned to the House Judiciary Committee. Robertson said he has spoken to the committee’s chair, Rep. Jim Hill, R-Odenville, and hopes it will receive a committee vote in the next few weeks.