Vermont ranks 43rd in government integrity laws
Most of Vermont’s elected officials are honorable and ethical, but some might fall short. However, without clear lines of what is and what is not ethical, the mere perception of waste, fraud, abuse or corruption undermines confidence in government and public servants.
Vermont affords its residents the pleasure of knowing their neighbors. Our state is full of small towns where we all know just about everyone. However, we should not mistake seeing elected officials at a meeting or bumping into them at a gas station, grocery store or high school athletic event as transparency or accountability. This is accessibility, not transparency.
Current laws address criminal activity, but not ethics and professional conduct in each branch – and at each level – of state government. That’s why Vermont ranks 43rd in government integrity laws according to the Better Government Association. And, as a practical matter, there is no process to which everyday Vermonters can turn if a government officials’ behavior is ethically questionable. We can do better.
In 2017, Campaign for Vermont was successful in pushing the House of Representatives to modify their rules and strengthen the standards for ethical behavior. Among other changes, lawmakers are now required to disclosed a comprehensive list of who compensates them. There is now an independent Ethics Committee charged with overseeing legislator behavior. This was a major step forward, but there is more work to be done.
The next step in the process is to pass a statewide code of ethics that applies to all public officials in state government. This will set the standard for what behavior Vermonters can expect from their representatives in government and allow us to move towards the end goal of giving the Ethics Commission enforcement powers so there is independent oversight.
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