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20th Feb

2017

Front Porch Forum Update #2 – 2017

This early in the session there are a flurry of bills being sent to the various committees for consideration, with no bills coming out of committee yet for general debate. The uncertainty looming over us all is what will happen with a new administration in Washington, especially regarding the federal tax dollars that Vermont depends on for many of our programs to function: particularly health care, transportation, and education.

Some of my work this week has been on government integrity. In my last post I mentioned making a formal objection to a member being seated while the outcome of his race is still under appeal. In brief, absentee ballots were not treated the same way in each town in that district; some were considered spoiled and discarded while similar ballots were counted in other towns.

I have no idea whether the appeal will change the outcome of the race, and that is not the point. What is essential is that we have an electoral process in which every vote is treated equally, especially in very, very close races like this one. State law gives the House final authority to resolve the election, and the Government Operations Committee will be taking this up in the coming week.

Along with that, I am sponsoring a bill to create a government Ethics Commission and standards of ethical conduct, with a parallel bill in the Senate. The idea was vigorously debated in the Senate during the last session, but the proposal was determined to be too complicated and too expensive. This new proposal is much simpler, much cheaper, and to be frank, less effective. But it puts a framework in place and a timeline to evaluate how best to give it real teeth. The goals are to create a means to resolve complaints of unethical behavior, require more disclosure by public officials, and to create a one-year waiting period before legislators or administration officials can become lobbyists.

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