Bill would allow active V.I. employees to run for office
Published: September 24, 2013
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ST. CROIX - The Senate Government Affairs and Housing Committee voted in favor of a bill Monday that would remove the mandatory requirement that government employees seeking election to public office take a leave of absence from their jobs.
Bill sponsor Sen. Terrence Nelson said he had brought the bill before and it did not pass out of committee, but he is trying again.
"People are feeling at a disadvantage when those elected already can stay in their jobs and campaign, while others have to give up their jobs and money for a run at public office," he said.
Caroline Fawkes, supervisor of Elections Systems of the Virgin Islands, said the Elections System supports the amendment and the intent of the bill.
Regulations such as the Hatch Act - which establishes specific prohibitions that to guide employees who hold a position within federal, state of local governments - ensure that employees adhere to the Employee Standard of Conduct Guidelines, she said.
Fawkes said that on Sept. 16 she requested the National Association of State Election send out a nationwide survey to obtain information about which states still had this law in place, but the results have not yet been returned.
Kurell Hodge, Equal Employment Opportunity Administration and Policy Analyst with the Division of Personnel, said if the bill is enacted into law, she is concerned that employees seeking political office could violate the provisions of the Hatch Act.
In addition to the prohibitions, Hodge said the proposed legislation also would create some challenges for managers, as they have to ensure that employees are not campaigning during working hours, ensure employees document their leave for political activities and ensure that employees are not using government resources to further their political agendas.
Hodge said prior to the passage of such legislation, the Division of Personnel would ask that senators conduct a review of how other jurisdictions approach the issue.
Committee Chairwoman Diane Capehart and Nelson both said they would support the bill because they came from other government jobs before the Senate and they knew first-hand how the leave of absence could affect a potential candidate.
Sen. Judi Buckley, having come from the private sector, said she had a hard time choosing one side or another.
"This bill leaves me with heartburn," she said. "I am certainly on the fence with this, but it is logical. It can open doors for misuse of time and government resources."
Nelson said the current law gives an uneven advantage to incumbent officials. He said possible violations of the Hatch Act are real, but he said it can be nothing more than what is already being done.
At the vote, Sen. Clifford Graham and Capehart both opted to abstain, while Buckley, Nelson and Sen. Alicia Hansen voted to move the bill favorably to the Rules and Judiciary Committee. Senators Donald Cole and Craig Barshinger were absent.
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