District 8 Delegate Harry Bhandari was pleased to see Governor Larry Hogan signing his legislation from the most recent legislative session into law, including Senator Kathy Klausmier’s SB515, cross-filed from Delegate Bhandari’s original HB48.
HB48, which seeks to bar students who are registered sex offenders from entering school buildings, was Delegate Bhandari’s first pre-filed bill of 2021. He worked hard to get support from all quarters for this legislation, and it showed — both HB48 and SB515 passed unanimously with the exact same wording.
Some backstory — a student was allowed to enroll at Parkville High School despite being on the sex offender registry for second-degree rape of a minor and victimized more young girls while at school.
“What happened stunned me as a legislator, and terrified me as a father of a student in Baltimore County,” Delegate Bhandari said testifying in favor of the bill. “It left many in our community feeling the same way.”
Now, the student is in jail awaiting trial, but the question of accountability remains — how can schools make sure this doesn’t happen again?
Delegate Bhandari hopes HB48 and SB515 can answer this question.
“Our priority is to protect our students,” Delegate Bhandari said after Governor Hogan signed the bill into law. “There was a loophole in the law, and we fixed it.”
The law, he explained, is the first of its kind in the nation — schools were previously unable to prevent registered sex offenders under the age of 21 from enrolling.
Similar legislation in Texas and Alabama leaves the course of action up to local boards of education, but Delegate Bhandari argues a statewide response is warranted to preemptively prevent the incident from repeating at other Maryland high schools.
“Previously, there was too much left up to an individual’s judgment,” Delegate Bhandari wrote in a Facebook post on April 6, the day the Senate passed HB48.
The legislation also codifies a reporting procedure so those in positions of authority are made aware of the circumstances.
Delegate Bhandari worked with fellow District 8 Delegate Carl Jackson, who came on board as a co-sponsor, as well as District 8 Joseph Boteler, III, and State Senator Kathy Klausmeier, who cross-filed SB515 in the senate and whose support was critical in getting the legislation over the finish line.
County Executive Johnny Olszewski and County Councilwoman Cathy Bevins advocated for a change in state laws to ensure that sex offenders cannot attend county Public Schools or any schools in Maryland. The County Executive office held a joint press conference with the district -8 delegation on Monday, Feb 10, 2020.
Majority Leader Eric Ludke worked with Delegate Bhandari to ensure the legislation would comply with federal regulations requiring access to public education for all students. Senate Judiciary Chair William C. Smith, Jr. helped build consensus among state senators to ease the ‘heavy lift’ behind the bipartisan bill — something we can all get behind.
“When we see the problem, we fix the problem,” Delegate Bhandari said. “As legislators, our role is to make the policy better if the policy is not working.”
Delegate Bhandari’s Press ReleaseSchool Safe Bill