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Senate Passes Bill Relaxing Hatch Act Restrictions for Employees

The U.S. Senate passed a bill that would allow more state and local government employees whose agencies receive federal funding to participate in partisan politics.

The measure, passed by unanimous consent, would make changes to the Hatch Act, a law that prohibits some government workers from seeking partisan public office if their employment relates to an activity at least partly financed with federal funds. Democrat Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, who’s retiring at the end of this term, introduced the legislation in March.

Increased federal government spending for state and local law-enforcement, first-responder and health-care agencies after Sept. 11, 2001, has meant that more employees are prohibited from running for partisan office, even when those public positions are unpaid.

The bill also would change the penalties for violating the Hatch Act. The Office of Special Counsel, an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency, would be given a range of options for punishment.

The measure would allow state and local government employees to run for office unless their entire salary is paid by the U.S. government, allowing hundreds of thousands of workers to run for office, according to testimony from Carolyn Lerner, head of the Office of Special Counsel.

The legislation would take effect 30 days after the bill’s enactment.

The House hasn’t acted on related measures.

The bill is S. 2170.

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