Category Archives: Senate Rules Committee

Senate ethics discussion devolves into farce

Well, now we know why the Senate Rules Committee likes to meet behind closed doors. Because yesterday, with reporters in the room, things got so badly out of control that they had to abruptly pack up and leave. Fortunately, VTDigger’s Mark Johnson was on hand to chronicle the chaos. His report is a classic case of “this would be funny if it wasn’t so sad.”

Senate Rules, a committee designed to defend the status quo, has been forced by events to take up the issue of ethics regulation — the very idea of which seems to offend at least three of the panel’s five members.

The saddest thing? The shambolic performance didn’t even concern a really tough issue. To anyone hoping for genuine ethics reform — like, for example, a state Ethics Commission — yesterday’s meeting was a knife in the back. The five Senators couldn’t even handle the much less impactful idea of an in-house Ethics Panel using the House’s toothless joke of a watchdog as a model.

Instead, they got stuck in the weeds of disclosure requirements.

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Another closed door in the People’s House

Constant readers of this blog (Hi, Mom!) will recall that earlier this month, I wrote a letter to the House Ethics Panel asking for a review of Rep. Adam Greshin’s actions regarding H.40, the RESET bill. For less constant readers, my complaint centered on this: Greshin authored an amendment to H.40 stripping away an increase in funding for Efficiency Vermont. (EV had already gotten Public Service Board approval; until this year, legislative review was a mere formality.) He also aggressively lobbied the House and Senate for his amendment.

EV gets its money through a surcharge on utility bills. As co-owner of the Sugarbush Resort, a voracious consumer of electricity ($2 million/year), Greshin stood to gain considerably if his amendment passed.

Well, the Ethics Panel has responded. And as expected, it was a whitewash. Greshin, so they say, did nothing wrong.

I’ll get to the substance of its decision in my next post. First, though, I need to address the process.

Between sending my letter and receiving the Panel’s reply, I didn’t hear anything about it. During the roughly one week between receiving my letter and drafting its ruling, the Panel conducted a review with help from Legislative Counsel. It also met with the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, and with Greshin himself. (Correction: The panel met with counsel to the House Energy and Natural Resources Committee, but not with the Committee itself.)

None of those meetings were noticed publicly. I was not informed. I was not given the opportunity to be a party to the proceedings.

It seems that the House Ethics Panel has a closed-door policy.

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