Editorial Roundup: Tennessee

Kingsport Times News. April 11, 2022.

Editorial: Bentley’s Law will make drunk drivers pay child support

With Gov. Bill Lee’s expected signature, Bentley’s Law will require that a drunk driver who kills a parent pay child support. The new law will hold drunk drivers accountable.

Likewise, state lawmakers should also use it as the basis for holding law enforcement departments accountable for needless (and not all are needless, mind you) high-speed chases that take the life of innocent victims who have the fatal misfortune of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Under Bentley’s Law, an impaired driver convicted of vehicular homicide will be ordered to pay restitution in the form of child maintenance to each of the victim’s children until they are 18 years old and graduate high school.

If the defendant is incarcerated and can’t pay, the defendant is given one year after their release to begin payments. If the child reaches 18 but hasn’t been paid in full, payments will continue until the child is entirely paid, the bill says.

Bentley’s Law was proposed by Cecilia Williams of Missouri, who asked that the legislation be named after her 5-year-old grandson. Williams says no amount of money can make up for the loss of life. But she hopes the law will lift some financial burdens of kids left without parents.

“It will always be a constant reminder to the offender of what the person’s actions have caused,” Williams wrote. That’s powerful and a just additional penalty beyond prison time.

Williams, a mother and grandmother, lost her son Cordell Williams, his girlfriend Lacey Newton, and their 5-month-old son Cordell Jr. in a drunk driving incident in April 2021. Surviving was their son Bentley, who must now grow up without parents.

“I wish we’d had thought of it years ago,” said Rep. William Lamberth of Sumner County.

“That’s a very creative bill,” said Rep. Antonio Parkinson of Memphis. “It’s a good bill and, I’m signing on to it.”

The bill passed unanimously in the Tennessee Senate and House.

Impaired driving is a growing problem. According to the Tennessee Department of Safety and Homeland Security, in 2020 there were 5,918 reported DUI crashes. In 2021, that number grew to 6,047. Also growing are the number of innocent people killed when caught up in a high-speed chase.

Last December, A. Grace Pearson, 22, who graduated summa cum laude from East Tennessee State University, was driving along West Market Street in Johnson City when her vehicle was struck from behind with sufficient speed to destroy it and take her life. She was another innocent victim, her vehicle struck by a car that lost control at high speed while being pursued on Johnson City streets by law enforcement.

Tennessee state law allows police to exceed speed limits and ignore red lights in a chase provided they “exercise due care,” which holds pursuing officers and the localities that employ them harmless for any injury or damages from any such pursuit. That needs to change. So long as the state refuses to ban needless high-speed police chases, it should hold localities financially responsible for the minor children of parents whose deaths came about as a result.

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Johnson City Press. April 12, 2022.

Editorial: There’s no excuse for not voting

In 1996, Tennessee became one of the first states in the nation to offer early voting for those who don’t want to stand in long lines on election day. Sadly, too many Tennesseans fail to exercise one of their most cherished rights in our free society.

Wednesday is the start of early voting for the May 3 primary elections for county offices. The early voting period ends April 28.

Because the region is dominated by Republican voters, several Republican primaries this year will provide the only candidates running in the county general election on Aug. 4.

We’ve heard many excuses over the years for not going to the polls, but none adequately explain the reasons for not exercising this important right of citizenship. Some of the flimsiest include: “I didn’t know there was an election going on,” “I don’t know enough about the candidates to make an informed choice” and “I don’t have time to vote.” We find the latter excuse to be extremely bogus.

Regardless of the turnout, it still costs the county the same amount of tax dollars to hold an election. Taxpayers can only get their money’s worth if they show up to the polls.

It’s important that you carry some form of approved photo identification with you when you go to vote. Acceptable forms of photo ID include driver’s licenses, U.S. passports and government employee identification cards. College student IDs, however, are not accepted.

Be sure to review the sample ballot and instructions for operating the voting machines that are posted at the polling place. Never leave a polling place without voting. Stay as long as it takes to complete the job because every vote counts.

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