A bipartisan, bicameral group of legislators has introduced a bill designed to update the law that regulates the involvement of federal, and some state and local government, employees in elective politics.

The legislation would allow candidates to run for local partisan offices even if they hold state or local government jobs that involve federal funding. The Hatch Act currently prohibits that.

The legislation also would allow a greater range of penalties for federal employees who violate Hatch Act provisions. Currently, violators must be fired, unless the Merit Systems Protection Board unanimously agrees to milder punishment.

“The Hatch Act has worked for nearly 75 years to shield employees from pressure to use federal time and resources for partisan gain, while also protecting employees’ personal freedoms of choice and expression,” said Sen. Daniel K. Akaka (D-Hawaii), chairman of the Senate’s federal workforce subcommittee. “It is time for Congress to update the Hatch Act to provide greater flexibility for state and local government employees, and additional options for disciplining federal employees charged with minor violations of the Hatch Act.”

Akaka introduced the legislation along with Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

“These are common-sense changes that will clarify the law and make it easier to enforce,” Cummings said.  “State and local employees, such as police officers should not be banned from running for public office, and there should be punishments less severe than firing for minor violations.”

Under the legislation, District government employees, who currently are subjected to the same rules as federal workers, would be treated as other state and local government workers are.

Other provisions would continue to prohibit state and local employees from using their official positions to interfere with an election or nomination and coercing other employees to contribute to a party or person for political purposes.

Although the main sponsors are Democrats, the legislation would remove one example of federal interference in state and local affairs, something often advocated by Republicans. Sen. Mike Lee (Utah) is a Republican co-sponsor of the bill, along with Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Carl Levin (D-Mich.).

“If we can update the Hatch Act to provide for greater flexibility for public workers while still ensuring the legitimacy of our politics,” Lee said, “there should be no reason for anyone to oppose such a change."


Previous columns by Joe Davidson are available at wapo.st/JoeDavidson. Follow the Federal Diary on Twitter: @JoeDavidsonWP