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Originally published Saturday, October 23, 2010 at 11:32 AM

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Tacoma health official's candidacy might break law

A Tacoma public health official's candidacy for the state House of Representatives might break federal law, The News Tribune reported Saturday.

The Associated Press

TACOMA, Wash. —

A Tacoma public health official's candidacy for the state House of Representatives might break federal law, The News Tribune reported Saturday.

The Tacoma-Pierce County Health Department's deputy director, Laurie Jinkins, is running as a Democrat for an open House seat representing parts of Tacoma and Fife.

The 1939 Hatch Act bars career executive branch workers from engaging in partisan political activities and extends to employees of state or local executive agencies that receive federal money.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel declined to comment to the newspaper specifically on Jinkins' candidacy.

Terilyn Dentino, attorney for the office's Hatch Act Unit, said in an e-mail "it has long been established" that employees of state or local agencies are subject to the law if they perform duties "in connection with an activity financed in whole or in part by federal funds."

Jinkins, a former assistant state attorney general, said she read the law and also sought advice from a private lawyer.

"It was one of the things that I looked at very closely before I decided to run," Jinkins said.

Jinkins handles the day-to-day operations at the 270-employee health department and oversees its $36 million annual budget. Several programs within the department are federally funded.

She told the newspaper she doesn't think the law applies to her because her salary isn't paid by federal money and she doesn't make decisions about how to spend federal money. Jinkins also noted she's on leave during the campaign.

But Dentino said it doesn't matter whether employees are on leave: If they're subject to the Hatch Act, they'd have to resign to run for elected, partisan office.

Other lawyers familiar with the law have specifically advised that it applies to the kind of duties Jinkins performs.

"Whether the employee's salary is paid by federal funds is not a relevant consideration," Larry H. James, general counsel for the National Fraternal Order of Police, wrote in a paper on the Hatch Act.

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Jinkins' opponent, two-term Democratic Tacoma City Councilman Jake Fey, said it appears to him that Jinkins is possibly breaking the law, but he has not filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

The law would not prohibit Jinkins from taking office should she win on Election Day.

The federal Merit Systems Protection Board determines discipline for Hatch Act violators. It "does not have the authority to invalidate the results of an election," Dentino said, "even if the employee ran for public office in violation of the Hatch Act."

If an investigation finds that a violation warrants dismissal, the employing agency must remove the employee or sacrifice federal assistance equal to two years' pay for the employee.

Jinkins said Friday that if the Office of Special Counsel were to advise her that she is subject to the law, "I'll do whatever they need me to do."

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Information from: The News Tribune, http://www.thenewstribune.com

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