OGDEN -- Congress has sent a bill to President Barack Obama that will change the Hatch Act in a way that would have allowed former Ogden Police Chief Jon Greiner to keep both his job and his seat in the Utah Senate.
The bill, called the Hatch Act Modernization Act, more narrowly defines violations, allowing state and municipal employees to run for public office.
The Hatch Act, which was passed in 1939 to protect federal employees from political pressure, still applies to people getting their full salary from federal funds.
Greiner served one term in the Utah Senate as well as 38 years as Ogden police chief. A federal Merit Systems Protection Board upheld a judge's 2010 ruling that the city must remove Greiner or forfeit about $215,000 in federal grants because of the violation of the Hatch Act. He was fired at the end of 2011.
Greiner did not run for re-election in 2010 and is currently retired.
Melissa Subbotin, spokeswoman for Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, said the revisions in the law should allow people like Greiner to run for public office in the future.
"It will continue to do what it was intended to do, which is prevent unethical behavior," she said. "But it seemed like the Hatch Act was unfairly penalizing (Greiner) for the federal grants that he received for his department."
Greiner, reached at home Thursday, said he was glad to see the change finally approved.
He went to Washington, D.C., in May to testify about the proposed changes and how the bill affected him.
"I'm not bitter," he said. "I understand the process. We didn't understand it in 2006. When this started, we had two weeks to make a decision, and my attorneys thought they understood."
Unfortunately, he said, the federal government disagreed, saying that his acceptance and supervision of federal grants while chief of police and running for office did violate the act.
Greiner said the old interpretation of the act was unfair. An officer would be stopped from running for his local school board if he had a patrol dog that had been paid for with federal funds, he said.
Subbotin said the changes had the support of Carolyn Lerner, head of the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which investigates violations of the Hatch Act.
"Special Counsel said that so much of what her department does is to monitor and pursue cases, such as Greiner's, where there was no claim of nefarious activity," she said. "So it redefines the intent of the Hatch Act and makes it more effective."
In December 2011, Lerner released a statement saying, "The Hatch Act injects the federal government into state and local contests thousands of times a year, its penalties are inflexible and sometimes unfair, and it is out-of-date with the 21st-century workplace."
Greiner noted that changes similar to these were approved during the administration of President George H.W. Bush, but he vetoed the bill. Congress missed overriding his veto by only a couple of votes, Greiner said.
"So this thing's been out there for a while. I'm just astonished it impacted me as much as it did."
Greiner said he currently has no plans to run for office again.