Gov. Phil Scott signed into law a bill Wednesday to establish a state code of ethics and a commission that will receive complaints and direct them to proper authorities but which lacks the power to investigate or penalize.
He said nationally and in Vermont, voters are disenchanted in government. “This bill is a positive step forward to demonstrate to Vermonters that its elected officials are committed to restoring that faith and trust across all three branches of state government,” Scott said.
Before the bill became law, Vermont was among five states without an ethics commission or code of conduct in state law for public officials.
Five members will sit on the commission, and they can refer complaints to various government agencies, such as the attorney general’s office, the Department of Human Resources or the Senate ethics panel.
Complaints and related documents in custody of the commission will be exempt from the Public Records Act.
The bill includes a number of other things. In addition to prohibiting lawmakers and executive officers from lobbying the state for a year after leaving office, it also requires more financial disclosure from candidates for state office and bars business people from entering into expensive contracts with the state offices where they or their spouses make campaign contributions.
Before Scott signed the bill, state officials told a scrum of reporters and other people that although the bill is a step forward, it is not perfect. The sentiment has been a theme now for two years as state officials bickered over whether Vermont needs stricter ethics controls.
Secretary of State Jim Condos is among the officials who say it does. He agrees with Scott that voters are apathetic, but he advocates more significant ethics reform.
“While I personally wish the Legislator had gone further, I recognize the art of compromise,” he said during the bill signing ceremony.
He expects to suggest further improvements in future legislative sessions, he said, such as creating an ombudsman to handle open meeting laws and public records appeals.