Making Democracy Work

Testimony on S.8 Ethics Commission (January 11)

Testimony before the Senate Government Operations Committee S.8. An act relating to establishing the State Ethics Commission and standards of governmental ethical conduct

January 11, 2017

Testimony before the Senate Government Operations Committee S.8. An act relating to establishing the State Ethics Commission and standards of governmental ethical conduct

Members of the Committee:

My name is Catherine Rader and I am a member of the board of the League of Women Voters of Vermont.

The LWV has worked for good government for 97 years. We seek transparency, accountability and responsiveness in our public officials at every level.

An ethics commission is one tool to help ensure that our officials serve us. An ethics commission would act not only as a monitor, but also as a resource to define what is expected and clarify any ambiguities that are sure to turn up in practice.

Therefore, the League of Women Voters of Vermont supports the establishment of an ethics commission.

However, to be effective it must be independent. Congress started the session by proposing to reduce the authority of the Office of Congressional Ethics and place oversight in the hands of the House Ethics Committee. Public reaction caused House leadership to walk this back (or at least postpone it). Public reaction was so strong because self-monitoring simply leaves too much opportunity for corruption to be swept under the rug. Keep Vermont Government honest by establishing and independent ethics commission.

Vermont's Human Rights Commission might serve as a model. It is an independent agency, with an Executive Director, several Investigators and other staff.

The Vermont Human Rights Commission is the state agency having Public accommodations involve the provision of goods and services by businesses to the public (including but not limited to stores, restaurants, professional offices, and hospitals) and by state and local governments (including schools). The Commission has four statutorily mandated roles: enforcement, conciliation, education and public policy development.

To ensure credibility and integrity, ethics guidelines and enforcement must be under an independent commission. It may cost more, but it would be money well spent.

The League urges passage of a stronger ethics bill.

Thank you.