State Ethics Commission Works Toward a Statutory Code of Ethics: Draft to be Submitted to Legislature in November.
History: When the Ethics Commission began in 2018, one of its first tasks was to draft a Code of Ethics. Unlike the ethics codes of most other states, the code drafted by Ethics Commission is not binding on any state employee or official. It is not backed by the force of law. Because the code is not accepted as the standard for conduct for state public servants, opinions or advice based on it are rarely sought and of little value.
In the fall of 2019, the Ethics Commission requested legislation authorizing it to submit to the General Assembly a draft Code of Ethics to be considered for adoption into law. Two bills, H.634 and S.198 did just that. In February 2020, all six current state-wide office holders signed a joint letter supporting the adoption of an ethics code by statute. Despite COVID-19 side-tracking the bills, the project continues. The chairs of the House and Senate Government Operations Committee asked the Ethics Commission to continue its work on a draft code, seek public input, and submit it to the legislature in November.
In July of 2020, the Ethics Commission sent out press releases, attempted to contact all state employees, and the general public for input on its draft Code of Ethics. In addition to seeking written comments, on August 12, 2020, the Commission held a public hearing to receive comments. The Ethics Commission is grateful to all who responded. Your responses were most helpful. The Ethics Commission submission to the legislature contains an annotated version of the July draft so comments and Commission responses can be seen. Comments received led to several revisions, especially those pertaining to conflicts of interest, gifts, and post-government employment. A revised draft has been submitted to the legislature.
The Ethics Code: This draft Ethics Code covers subjects found in most state and federal codes of ethics. It addresses conflicts of interest, non-delegation of unethical acts, appearance of conflicts of interest or law violations, preferential treatment, use of government position for personal gain, use of confidential or non-public information, use of government resources, gifts, statements obligating the State of Vermont, post-government employment, compliance with other laws and ethics rules or policies, whistleblower protections for ethics complaints, and ethics education and training. This draft ethics code is not as detailed as some other codes of ethics. It reflects the Ethics Commission’s belief that Vermont public servants do not need a complicated list of detailed dos and don’ts, and that ethics compliance in Vermont is best achieved through education and increased public servant ethics awareness.
Enforcement? The Ethics Commission believes a statutory code of ethics setting ethics standards for public servants should be adopted first - before enforcement discussions begin. Once a code of ethics becomes law, ethics education and awareness will be the first and most effective means to ensure compliance. The Ethics Commission is a willing partner and resource for public servants. In response to a request from the Senate Government Operations Committee the Commission has prepared a memorandum regarding enforcement options.
November 2020 Update:
Thank you for your help!
To those who submitted comments on the draft code of ethics: A big thank you. Clear ethics standards for public servants and confidence in government go hand in hand. Vermonters and their public servants will benefit from a well-thought-out ethics code.
Press Release: Vermont Takes a Step Toward a Statutory Code of Ethics