FRANKFORT — A Tennessee state official spoke to Kentucky lawmakers on Thursday about a new Tennessee law requiring those convicted of homicide while driving a vehicle due to being intoxicated to pay child support to each of the victim’s children.
Tennessee Rep. Mark Hall, R-Cleveland, testified before the Interim Joint Committee on the Judiciary that Tennessee was the first state to pass this type of law and that at least 14 other states have proposed similar legislation.
Hall said he thought the bill, Tennessee House Bill 1834, was a “common sense approach” to combat drunk driving.
“(The law) does two things. It protects our greatest resource, our children, and also holds drunk drivers accountable,” Hall said.
Senate President Robert Stivers, R-Manchester, asked Hall whether or not a wrongful death lawsuit would offset part of the child support obligation. Committee co-chair Rep. C. Ed Massey, R-Hebron, asked how the bill compelled the person to make the payments.
“The person may be incarcerated, etc., and may not have the financial resources to (make payments). Some might say it’s an empty shell, but is there some sort of restitution order that would go with it? asked Massy.
Hall had a similar response to both questions. Tennessee law is open, giving district attorneys and judges discretion to decide whether or not a child support order would be appropriate on a case-by-case basis, he said.
However, payments would not begin until one year after incarceration. Hall said there will be a formula in place much like the one used in divorce proceedings to determine payment amounts.
Sen. Karen Berg, D-Louisville, asked if someone who cannot afford to pay child support would be charged with another crime.
“My concern is that we are essentially jailing people who have less money and not people who can afford this verdict,” Berg said.
Massey said that under Kentucky law, if the amount owed reached $5,000 and was a despicable arrears, the person could be thrown in jail.
Since the Kentucky General Assembly adjourned on April 14, lawmakers cannot introduce or take action on new bills until the start of the 2023 legislative session on January 3. Massey said Thursday’s discussion with Hall was for the committee to learn more about the Tennessee law as lawmakers consider whether or not they want to pursue similar legislation next year.
The next Interim Joint Committee on the Judiciary is currently scheduled for July 7 at 11 a.m.