Vermont Senate Backs Scaled-Down Ethics Commission Bill

Feb 7, 2017

The Vermont Senate has given its unanimous approval to legislation that creates an ethics commission in the state. Some supporters of the bill say they're disappointed that the proposal is a scaled-down version of the original model, but others argue it's a good starting point.

There's been a lot of interest in this bill because Vermont is one of the few states in the country that doesn't have an ethics panel in place.

The legislation creates a five-member panel that will review allegations of wrongdoing. If the commission believes the charges have merit, the case will be sent to the attorney general's office for further investigation and possible prosecution.

Senate Government Operations chairwoman Jeanette White says the commission is needed because public trust in government has been eroding over the years.

"Mistrust runs all the way from the federal government down to local government. This is a problem,” says White. “As Abraham Lincoln said, 'With public sentiment nothing can fail, without it nothing can succeed.’ If government is to succeed, we need to have the trust of our citizens.”  

The plan calls for all statewide candidates and lawmakers to disclose all sources of income above $10,000, and it requires them to release their income tax returns.

The bill also prohibits legislators and top appointed and elected members of the executive branch from lobbying at the Statehouse for at least year after they leave office.

White says this scaled-down approach is the best way to proceed at this time.

"Setting up a full commission with investigatory and enforcement power before we know what is needed is not a wise idea." — Senate Government Operations chairwoman Jeanette White

"Setting up a full commission with investigatory and enforcement power before we know what is needed is not a wise idea,” said White. ”Our committee recommendation is to start, find out what is needed, where the issues are, have some education and training, and prevent violations as much as possible." 

But not all supporters backed the limited scope of the bill. Essex-Orleans Sen. John Rodgers said he thinks the legislation could have been a lot stronger.

"I think it hardly scratches the surface if we're truly after ethics in government,” said Rodgers. “So I think it's an extremely small slice of what needs to be addressed, and I think there are much more serious issues."  

The measure will come up for final consideration in the Senate on Wednesday afternoon. It will then be reviewed by the House.