Although virtually no work was done late last year in Washington, D.C., Congress did manage to pass a law fixing the broken Hatch Act, which prohibited federal employees -- or anyone whose job is connected to federal dollars -- from running in partisan elections.

It was easy to miss, considering the nation at the time was focused on the end-of-year fiscal cliff debacle.

Even Kevin Schreiber, a Democrat running in a special election to replace Eugene DePasquale in the 95th House District, wasn't aware the law was changing.

No sooner had he announced his resignation as York City's director of community and economic development so as not to violate the Hatch Act did he learn the news.

In fact, the Hatch Act Modernization law took effect Jan. 29 -- the day after Schreiber revealed his intention to resign.

Schreiber said he's still trying to decide whether to stick to his plan, but the important thing is he doesn't have to quit his job to run for office.

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.

Unfortunately, it had had the unintended consequence of forcing some of our best-qualified people to choose between their livelihoods and the uncertainty of running for office.


Before the recent change, the Hatch Act placed the same restrictions on state and local government workers if their positions involved dealing with federal money. In an era of tight budgets and federal grants, that would be most state and local government workers.

In 2011, former Springettsbury Township Police Chief David Eshbach retired when he decided to run for Dover-area district judge. His police department was in line to receive a $1,500 federal grant for bulletproof vests -- which would have violated the act.

Kyle King, on the other hand, withdrew from last year's race for the 95th House District when he learned his position as chief administrator in the York County District Attorney's Office put him in violation of the Hatch Act.

Now, like Schreiber, both men could run for office without having to worry about breaking the law.

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, according to Ann O'Hanlon, spokeswoman for the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which enforces the law.

Her director was one of the voices calling to change the law.

"Fixing this broken law will cost taxpayers nothing and will demonstrate respect for the independence of state and local elections," said Carolyn Lerner, who heads the Office of Special Counsel.

We're glad Congress took her advice.

It's a shame we've become so used to lawmakers doing nothing that we hardly notice when they actually perform their jobs.