Daily Archives: February 5, 2021

Another Baby Step in the Long, Treacherous Journey to Ethical Standards

Couldn’t resist.

Hey, guess what! Vermont is one of only three states without any enforceable ethics standards in law. Let’s hear it for Vermont Exceptionalism!

The effort to change that state of affairs has been percolating along at a barely perceptible pace for years now. At every step along the way, it’s met with opposition by state lawmakers, who tend to be very protective of their rights and obligations. The basic argument is, “Vermont is better than that! We don’t need no stinkin’ ethics law!”

Which is like saying we don’t need speed limits because Vermonters are inherently safe drivers. The vast majority of public officials do their jobs right, just like the vast majority of Vermont drivers abide by the speed limit. But that doesn’t mean we don’t need police patrolling the roads.

The latest turn in this long, depressing saga came Friday afternoon, when the House Government Operations Committee approved H.135, a bill that makes a few minor changes in how the Ethics Commission does its business. Still secret, still unfunded, still toothless. The bill got unanimous support after committee leaders assured members that the bill didn’t really do anything.

Left for future debate are the tough items: Adopting a Code of Ethics in state law, deciding how enforcement will work, whether the Commission should have any powers, and whether it should have a big enough budget to maybe hire at least one full-time staffer. (Right now, the only paid person is Executive Director Larry Novins, and he’s part-time. You call the Ethics Commission, you’ll likely be shunted to voice mail.)

After the jump: A little history, and a look ahead.

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