Ethics Commission Oversight (S.17) - April 25, 2023

Christina Sivret introduced herself to the House Government Operations Committee on Tuesday. She talked about the Vermont Ethics Commission and the service they provide. The majority of their current responsibilities relate to training and providing advice; they have ability to receive complaints but not to investigate them. However, they do oversee that State Code of Ethics.

The concept, she explained, is that the State Code of Ethics should apply to all state employees. She discussed the fact that if there can be additional codes of ethics within a state department that may be more stringent than the statewide code.

In the context of the bill in front of the Committee, S.17, Sivret recommended that the Commission (the Code of Ethics) should apply to all state sheriffs and state attorneys. She explained that when outside employment comes up as a conflict, the individual sends a job description to Commission and they determine whether there is a conflict of interest and whether the employee can be employed in that specific outside job or not. 

Sivret also mentioned the financial disclosure language for candidates that is currently being considered in the Senate at the moment. She noted that Vermont's Code of Ethics is "very modest" compared to other states, meaning that is less intrusive and lacks enforcement capabilities.

She added that, in some cases, sheriffs and deputies are considered state employees for purposes of code of ethics. She highlighted the importance of having independent ethics oversight, and that is why Ethics Commission is independent and not associated with any other department or branch of state government.

A committee member wanted to know who else at the county would be covered. Sivret responded that all legislators and elected officials are included as well as judges and some sheriffs and deputies but not high bailiffs.

Sivret noted that next year the Commission will be back with a detailed proposal of how to put municipalities under the Code of Ethics as well. Additionally, they will have further recommendations about enforcement.

Chairman McCarthy noted that Vermonters are very interested in this issue and the Committee will need to do a "deep dive" going forward.

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