Schreiber
Schreiber

Kevin Schreiber might not need to resign as York City's economic and community development director after all.

For 74 years, a federal law known as the Hatch Act prohibited state and local employees whose jobs are tied to federal funding from participating in partisan elections. That left would-be candidates with a choice of resigning their jobs or leaving political office to someone else.

As of this week, that's officially American history.

On Dec. 19, 2012, as the nation awaited action on the fiscal cliff, Congress passed the Hatch Act Modernization Act.

The 1939 Hatch Act was aimed at ending patronage abuses on Depression-era public works projects - where people were sometimes coerced to work in a campaign as a condition for getting a job, or had to kick back a portion of their pay as a political contribution.

In more recent years, however, the Hatch Act emerged as a roadblock to potentially qualified candidates.

"Many, many - I mean hundreds - every year of people who probably should have the right under a democracy for running for political office were being barred from doing so," said Ann O'Hanlon, spokeswoman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the law.

In York County, for example, the chief administrator for York County's district attorney withdrew his name as a Republican candidate for the 95th House District last year after being advised the campaign was a violation of the Hatch Act.

And the Hatch Act prompted former Springettsbury Township Police Chief David Eshbach to retire in 2011 for the chance to serve as Dover-area district judge. As for his connection to federal dollars, Eshbach's department was expecting to receive a $1,500 grant for bulletproof vests.

The updated law relieves most restrictions on state and local employees. They are now subject to the Hatch Act only if their salaries are entirely funded by federal loans or grants, O'Hanlon said.

The changes went into effect Sunday, she said.

That likely means Schreiber, who supervises a department partially funded by federal dollars, could choose to keep his job at least until the May 21 special election.

That's when voters will decide who should replace former Rep. Eugene DePasquale as representative of the 95th state House District.

DePasquale, a Democrat, resigned the seat earlier this month to take his post as the state's auditor general.

Schreiber had said earlier this week that he would resign his city job Feb. 9, the same day the state party's executive committee is expected to select Schreiber as the Democratic Party's official nominee for the 95th state House District.

News of the Hatch Act update came to his attention soon after announcing his plan to resign, Schreiber said.

Schreiber said Thursday that he hasn't yet made a decision about whether he will continue with that plan. First, Schreiber said, he's waiting for official word from his attorney about what the Hatch Act update means for him.

"It's nice to know that during the fiscal-cliff debate, other work was getting done. As we know, the Hatch Act, many people for a long time have said it's in need of modernization," Schreiber said. "It's certainly nice to know, just having it go into effect now, obviously means it could have an implication that we otherwise weren't aware of."

- Erin James may also be reached at ejames@yorkdispatch.com.