Vermont code of ethics bill unanimously passes state Senate
A bill to create a state code of ethics for elected and appointed officials, legislators, and all state employees was passed unanimously by Vermont Senate on Wednesday. A majority of other states already have similar codes.
The measure, which now goes to the House, also would apply to individuals appointed to state boards and commissions or who are authorized to act or speak on behalf of the state.
Allegations of ethics violations could be reviewed by the Vermont State Ethics Commission. Complaints that implicate a public servant would be referred by the commission to the state agency that employs that person for a possible investigation, according to Christina Sivret, the commission’s executive director.
”Especially at a time when faith in democratic institutions is so low, it’s important that state officials and employees from the governor on down be held to the same standards of ethical conduct when representing the State,” Sen. Anthony Pollina, a progressive Democrat from Washington County, said by email.
“And it’s important for Vermonters to know their voices will be heard” if they have questions about a public officials’ conduct, Pollina said.
According to the Vermont State Ethics Commission, more than 40 other states have adopted ethics codes by statute. In 2017, the Vermont Legislature created the State Ethics Commission. Three years later, Gov. Phil Scott and some other state government officials asked the chairs of certain legislative committees to establish a code of ethics for public servants “backed by the force of law.”
“Right now, we’re operating under the assumption that unethical conduct is not a problem in Vermont government because we don’t really have a system to capture it,” Sivret told Vermont Public Radio.
Under the bill passed by the Senate Wednesday, public servants must avoid any conflict of interest or appearance of one; show no preferential treatment to any person in the course of state business, and not use their position for personal or financial gain. They must not accept gifts, with some exceptions; not misuse state resources; and not do outside work that is inconsistent, incompatible, or in conflict with their official duties.
The bill also calls for mandatory ethics training within the first four months of public service and at least once every three years after that. Those individuals also may report ethics violations to the Vermont State Ethics Commission without fear of reprisal, intimidation or retaliation, the bill states.
If passed by the House and signed by the Gov. Phil Scott, the measure would take effect on July 1.
This story has been corrected to show that the Vermont State Ethics Commission could review, not investigate, potential ethics violations.