Political rights come with four big 'don'ts'

FEDERAL WORKERS

September 29, 1993|By Ned Martel | Ned Martel,States News Service

WASHINGTON -- Later this fall, President Clinton is expected to sign into law Hatch Act changes that would broaden the rights of federal workers to participate in political campaigns in their free time.

The bill includes a penalty of up to three years in prison and a maximum fine of $5,000 if federal workers violate the "four basic rules" outlined by Sen. John Glenn, the Ohio Democrat who authored the changes:

* Federal workers cannot run for any political elective office.

* Federal workers cannot ask for campaign contributions from private citizens.

* Federal workers cannot use their official capacity to influence other employees or election outcomes.

* Federal workers cannot do any political work while wearing their professional uniform or sporting any insignia that identifies them as a public employee, such as those worn by park rangers and postal letter carriers.

Mr. Glenn said Congress needed to create a "bright line" showing federal employees just where they could stand on political issues.

The House voted to accept one principal difference that the Senate version of the bill included -- the ban on federal employees running for office.

The House agreed to allow about 85,000 employees in sensitive "national security-related" jobs to remain under current restrictions on political activity.

Another Senate provision included in the final bill would make federal workers' paychecks subject to garnishment should they have debts such as alimony or child-support, which courts have allowed to be taken out of earned wages.

The previous loophole "costs taxpayers and private businesses millions of dollars each year," said Sen. Larry Craig, the Idaho Republican who fought for the clause. He noted that lawmakers had previously been exempted along with others paid by the U.S. Treasury.

Some Republicans had feared the legions of federal workers whose political involvement would be loosened might favor Democratic causes, but federal employee unions have said that their understanding of their own ranks does not support that.

These unions argued for the changes on the basis of democratic fairness, according to a statement from John Sturdivant, president of the American Federation of Government Employees. "Democracy is best served when all can voice their political beliefs," Mr. Sturdivant said.

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