Comments on S.171 – January 12, 2022
Chairwoman White and members of the Senate Government Operations Committee, thank you for inviting me to testify on the importance of a code of ethics for the State of Vermont. As you well know, this is an issue Campaign for Vermont has followed and advocated on behalf of for a number of years.
We have come a long way over the past several years on ethics in Vermont. Specifically, we have:
- Established an Ethics Commission.
- Hired an executive director for the commission and provided a basic level of staffing.
- Created House and Senate ethics panels to adjudicate potential issues that arise in the legislature.
- Empowered the Ethics Commission to work with stakeholders in and around state government to create a uniform code of ethics for state government.
Ethics Commissions are an important tool maintaining the public’s faith in their government. Something that is even more important today than it was a few years ago when we started this journey towards ethics reform. Events of the past year have shown us just how fragile faith in our institutions actually is. At Campaign for Vermont, we view ethics laws and the enforcement mechanisms behind them as the gatekeepers of public faith in our government, the integrity of our institutions, and good character of our elected leaders.
The bill before us today represents a culmination of that work we have undertaken together over the past few years. A uniform code of ethics that applies to all public officials, elected and appointed alike, that sets a standard of conduct by which we expect those who work for us, the people of Vermont, and represent us to adhere to.
This universal code of ethics is important because it provides the public, the Ethics Commission, and (perhaps most importantly) public officials with a common set of standards and expectations that should be easily understood by all. Regardless of the job role, occupation, or department those that serve in all three branches of state government serve the people of Vermont and there is a level of conduct we should expect whether they are a judicial clerk, a department head, or policy-maker.
Further, a universal code of ethics allows the Ethics Commission to provide more-useful feedback to inquiries because there is a common set of standards across state government – one which they are responsible for adjudicating. This is a key function of an Ethics Commission, being the place one turns to with an issue when there seems to be no other place to go to provide advice and counsel.
We look forward to partnering with you again to get this bill across the finish line and provide an ethical “safety net” for our public officials.
Best wishes for health and happiness in these dark times,
Secretary, Campaign for Vermont Board of Directors