Vermont Gov. Phil Scott has signed legislation creating the Green Mountain State’s first-ever ethics commission — a direct response to low grades from the Center for Public Integrity’s State Integrity Investigation.
The bill signed by Scott on Wednesday would establish a five-member ethics commission with a part-time executive director, starting in 2018. The commission would have no investigative or enforcement authority, but would be tasked with reviewing any ethical complaints. The panel would additionally create a state code of ethics.
The bill also bars certain types of employment for legislators and state executives after they leave office; requires new personal income disclosures for particular state officials and prohibits some campaign contributions for those doing business with the state.
In a signing ceremony Wednesday morning, Scott, a Republican elected last fall, called the measure “a positive step forward to demonstrate to Vermonters that its elected officials are committed to restoring…faith and trust across all three branches of state government.”
Scott added that the legislation was “an overdue step, as most other states have existing ethics commissions, disclosure laws and conflict-of-interest rules already in place.”
The Center’s 2015 State Integrity Investigation was an oft-mentioned backdrop to the legislative debate over the new ethics law — a debate that has raged over the past two legislative sessions in Montpelier, fueled in part by columnists and editorials arguing that it was time for some changes. The bill experienced numerous twists and turns as it wound through the Senate and House this year, and what emerged was widely acknowledged to be a compromise measure.
Vermont received a grade of F from the State Integrity Investigation and ranked 50th out of 50 states in the category of ethics enforcement because it previously had no ethics body of any sort, a rarity among the states. Vermont's overall grade was D minus, ranking it 37th out of the 50 states.