Senate supports ethics bill calling for limited commission - VTDigger
 

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.

Elizabeth Hewitt

Comment Policy

VTDigger.org requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation. If you have questions or concerns about our commenting platform, please review our Commenting FAQ.

Privacy policy
  • Neil Johnson
  • 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.

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Senate supports ethics bill calling for limited commission"