By Rep. Jessica Brumstead
Last week, the House passed both the FY18 general fund budget and the capital budget and state bonding bill with nearly unanimous votes. Ever since February, I have observed all the members of the House Appropriations Committee come in early, work late, and travel to the statehouse on Mondays to produce a budget that did not increase taxes and/or fees.
As you can imagine, this would not be an easy task for anyone, never mind for a statehouse filled with legislators who were just elected with lots of ideas for new programs in all areas of state spending. However, everyone became very focused on the work that came out of the Appropriations Committee and the House Corrections & Institutions that is responsible for the capital bill.
The House Appropriations Committee split up the budget by issues according to the jurisdictions of the other House committees, and each committee took the review of their pieces very seriously. We all looked to be as frugal as possible and to hold the line against reduction in services. In the end, Democrats, Republicans, Progressives, and Independents came together to pass a budget that is not dependent on raising new revenues and that kept intact essential programs. (If you want to review the specifics of the budget, please refer to Rep. Kate Webb’s column last week at http://www.shelburnenews.com/2017/04/05/report-from-montpelier-26/ )
This week’s work and the pace changed a bit as House committees switched their focus back to committee discussion and new testimony on the many bills we have all received from the Senate. In the House Government Operations Committee, of which I am a member, we spent much of our week hearing testimony on S. 8, an act relating to establishing the State Ethics Commission and standards of governmental ethical conduct.
In addition to establishing a commission, this bill would impose restrictions on contracting and campaign restrictions, require financial disclosures of legislative candidates for office and certain executive officers, and prohibit legislators and executive officers from becoming lobbyists for one year after leaving office. The committee is reviewing the specifics of the bill and working to assure that we meet our constitutional obligations while still assuring the public that we care deeply about the need for ethical behavior among all elected and appointed officials. All members of my committee agree that honesty, candor, diligence, and collegiality are critical attributes for all elected officials to hold and practice.
An effective ethics law is foremost a metaphorical conscience, and a practical resource for all elected officials to understand their ethical responsibilities. We are one of only three states without an Ethics Commission, and I am in support of legislation that would put in place a strong and workable standard for our state. In a time of widespread citizen mistrust of their government institutions and sometimes in their elected officials, what could be more important than reestablishing trust?
We must clarify, articulate, inspire, and enforce the highest level of ethical behavior among Vermont Government officials and elected politicians. S.8 went through a very thorough vetting in the Senate Government Operations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee and was the subject of in-depth and lively debate on the Senate floor before it passed on a strong voice vote. Right now, our committee is getting some pushback from members of the House who serve on other committees. Our goal is to be able to explain the conclusions we have reached in a way that will convince all members of the House to support S.8 when it comes out of our committee.
And I note with pride that our very own town moderator, Tom Little, testified before our committee to discuss Shelburne’s Ethics Ordinance. Tom previously served as a representative from Shelburne and is always a welcomed witness in the State House. Shelburne is a leader among Vermont’s municipalities as it established this important ordinance back in 2009. S. 8 calls for all municipalities to officially establish such rules prior to 2020.
I will also be in the Pierson Library from 6 to 7pm on Tuesday, April 25 to discuss issues of interest. Please know I am always available to meet with anyone by appointment in Montpelier from Tuesday to Friday and in Shelburne and St. George on Saturdays and Mondays.
Thank you for the opportunity to serve.