Courts & Corrections

Senate supports ethics bill calling for limited commission

Jeanette White
Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, is chair of the Government Operations Committee. File photo by Elizabeth Hewitt/VTDigger
The Senate has given preliminary approval to a bill that makes several changes to Vermont’s ethics laws, including establishing an ethics commission.

The bill, S.8, passed on a voice vote Tuesday morning with no opposition.

Introducing the legislation on the floor, Sen. Jeanette White, D-Windham, who chairs the Government Operations Committee, said there is a lack of trust in municipal and state government, citing figures from a poll published by Vermont Public Radio and Castleton Polling Institute last year.

“This is a problem,” she said.

The five-member commission created by the legislation would have a part-time executive director and include members appointed by the American Civil Liberties Union, the Vermont Bar Association and others. It has an estimated cost of $100,000.

The commission would not have any powers to investigate or enforce, but would instead refer complaints to existing agencies, such as the attorney general’s office.

The bill, which passed out of the Government Operations Committee last month, enshrines several other ethics standards in law, including a provision addressing “pay to play” concerns by restricting certain state contracts for those who make significant political contributions.

It also establishes financial disclosure requirements for statewide officeholders and candidates. The bill would also restrict lawmakers and high-level administration officials from becoming registered lobbyists for one year after they leave office.

Sen. John Rodgers, D-Essex-Orleans, said the bill does not go far enough.

“I think it hardly scratches the surface if we’re truly after ethics in government,” he said.

Rodgers voted in favor of the bill but said it takes on an “extremely small slice” of what needs to be addressed.

Speaking on the floor, White said the proposal in the bill is not the “full-fledged” ethics commission that some had proposed. Such a panel comes with a high cost, she said, adding that it is not clear if Vermont needs that type of commission.

After the Senate adjourned, she said the commission as drafted in the bill will serve as a “funnel” that will direct concerns about conduct of Vermont officials and candidates to existing channels.

By setting up the commission as proposed, she said, Vermont may find the state doesn’t have an ethics problem.

“We may not need a full ethics commission with investigator and enforcement abilities,” White said.

If the bill passes the Senate on its third reading Wednesday, it will move to the House.

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  • Neil Johnson

    Why not burn the money it would go to a better use. If you don’t strive for an A, from our D- what is the point. We’ll be sending out more questionnaires to our leaders in response to this. So far, the minority and majority house leaders, along with Governor and Maxine Grad have not answered our emails. Representative Greshin was quick to respond.

    https://www.citizenreports.us/greshin-open-to-improving-ethics-in-vermont/

    Citizen Reports, we can always use a few good citizens to help report.

  • Kim Fried

    Please can I remind Senator White that she has no problem finding money for every other noble cause. But not for a comprehensive ethics bill?
    She admits that the public, I assume citizens, are wary of some of the Legislators activities and then passes a ethics law that is part time without enforcement powers. What a brilliant waste of time and money, I guess it’s the best we can expect, same old same old, feel good legislation. What a shame.

  • Darcy Canu

    When we are all watching the national scandals that are shaking confidence in govt. to the core, we need to remember that there is corruption everywhere, even here in VT.
    To have a P/T director and an appointed commission that will get together and shoot the breeze about possible violations and ‘recommend’ followup by state authority isn’t enough. Give it some teeth or deep six it. Waste of time and money. What is Sen. White afraid of here?

  • Ralph Colin

    “Speaking on the floor, (Sen.) White said the proposal in the bill is not the ‘full-fledged’ ethics commission that some had proposed. Such a panel comes with a high cost, she said, adding that it is not clear if Vermont needs that type of commission.”

    In what alternate universe does the Senator live?

    If she were to be hit in the face with a soft, lemony-tasting substance, might it not occur to her that someone had probably just flung a lemon-meringue pie at her?

    Given the record over the last six years, either the word “ethics” requires a different definition or we are all deaf, dumb and blind!

  • walter moses

    So sad that this is the best the committee can do. Does Senator White deny Vermont’s D- rating? So afraid to spend money on something this state needs desperately.

  • Hilton Dier, III

    Here’s an idea: Finance a legally empowered, fully staffed, independent ethics committee with private donations. Give it $100,000 to start and then allow VT residents to donate up to $100 annually (to avoid the undue influence of big donations). It could be a check-off on the Vermont tax return. I would bet the rent that we’d have no problem financing it. I’d donate.