Municipal Ethics (H.875) - May 1, 2024

A strike all of H.875 was presented to the Senate Government Operations Committee on Wednesday, which reflected some of the agreed upon discussions and clarifications. Legislative Counsel reviewed the bill.  There were two significant changes:

If the complaint alleges a violation of the Municipal Code of Ethics, the Executive Director shall refer the complaint to the designated ethics liaison of the municipality. 

The strike-all also added a substitute Whistleblower Protection section which mirrored the Whistleblower Protection language for State employees.  There was a question from a Committee member about what ‘protected employee’ meant in the bill.  It was explained that as used it meant that it applied only to employees of municipalities and not school districts or school board members.

Christina Sivret (Executive Director, Vermont Ethics Commission) explained that she just wanted to clarify a few things about the draft bill before the Committee. She was hoping that the financial disclosure language previously discussed could be incorporated in the draft bill so that definitions could be narrowed regarding the disclosure of individual stock and bond holdings. She also asked that the information requested about loans be limited to a spouse or candidate’s loans relating to his/her own businesses.

She also asked for some additional clarifications in other parts of the bill. More significantly, she suggested that the Committee might want to include language that would require interested parties to begin discussing an enforcement component and report back to the Legislature next session with recommendations.  Sivret suggested that perhaps this component could be implemented over two or three years.

Chairwoman Hardy asked Sivret for clarification about whether the Commission was prepared to consult with municipalities and provide advice. Sivret confirmed that the Commission was in fact able to provide advice.  Hardy noted that the draft bill would be changed to reflect that understanding.

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