Congress approves Hatch Act update

J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The first Hatch Act update in nearly 20 years, which was headed to President Obama’s desk after the House approved it Wednesday, will allow for some state and local government officials to run for partisan elected office.

The 2012 Hatch Act Modernization Act,  unanimously approved by the Senate earlier in December, will ensure state and municipal employees whose salaries come entirely from federal funds remain prohibited from seeking elected office while lifting the ban for others. Currently, all nonfederal government employees working on projects that receive any federal funds are barred from running for office.

The bill also expands the options for penalizing federal employees who violate the law. As it currently stands, these employees face immediate termination.

 “This is a victory for good government,” said Carolyn Lerner, chief of the Office of Special Counsel, the independent federal agency charged with overseeing the Hatch Act. “The bipartisan sponsors of this reform deserve credit for recognizing a problem and acting swiftly to address it. Local communities around the country will benefit from this reform.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, D-Md., who introduced the legislation in the House, said the reforms will make the law more effective. "This bill will allow state and local government employees, such as police officers, to run for office, and it will ensure that the punishment fits the crime by providing a range of penalties for Hatch Act violations instead of requiring employees to be fired,” he said.

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