To the editor: Land use, municipal ethics bills draw interest in Montpelier

The Statehouse is an extraordinarily busy place at the moment. The legislature is in the last month of its two-year 2023-24 biennium, which means that if bills don’t pass in the next four weeks, they are ‘dead’ until January 2025, when they can be re-introduced. So, for many issues and bills, this is crunch time. As a result, most of our big bills are in negotiation.

For example, both the Senate’s big housing bill, S.311, and land use bill, S.308, are being incorporated into the House’s Act 250 (land use) update bill, H.687. This represents a substantial amount of time and effort by three committees. The action at the moment, on all three of those bills, is in Senate Natural Resources and Energy. So, if you are interested in following the developments in these areas, H.687 will be voted out of that committee in the next week.

It will then go to the Senate Finance and Appropriations committees (as it has spending and tax proposals in it). And, after that, it will go to the Senate floor to be voted on. Following that, a conference committee —  three members of the House and three of the Senate — will be named. The final negotiations on two of the legislature’s priorities —  housing and land use planning — will occur in this committee.

Another bill generating quite a bit of interest is this year’s Ethics Bill, H.875. Vermont had been one of the only states without some form of an Ethics Commission and without a State Code of Ethics. For the last eight years, the legislature has worked to rectify that. We now have both an Ethics Commission and a State Code of Ethics. Click here for the commission’s website and State Code of Ethics.

Each year we work to update and add to aspects of the State Code of Ethics. This year, we are addressing municipal ethics. In response to last year’s legislative request for a report from the Ethics Commission on how to implement a municipal code of ethics, the House Committee on Government Operations crafted this bill, which is now being considered by the Senate Government Operations Committee on which I serve. Evidently a significant number, almost 50%, of the complaints lodged at the Ethics Commission are municipal in nature. Most frequently cited concerns are conflicts of interest, preferential treatment, retaliation and financial impropriety.

Currently, all three branches of state government — legislature, judiciary and executive — have established codes of ethics. Most ethics complaints are funneled through the Ethics Commission to the appropriate state body which, in their turn, has a system designed to address these issues. Most of H.875 seeks to strengthen the Code of Ethics at the state level and the last third of the bill establishes one at the local level.

It is not meant to target any size of town or area of the state. We are continuing to work on this bill – trying to make sure we don’t place undue burdens on towns. The Vermont League of Cities and Towns is helping us appreciate what is realistic for most municipal governments. In all this work, our objective has been to create a standard, clear and consistent code of ethics, one that all public servants are required to abide by. Vermonters expect nothing less.

I appreciate hearing from you. I can be reached by email: or by phone at the Statehouse Tuesday through Friday at 802-828-2228 or at home Saturday through Monday at 802- 457-4627. To get more information on the Vermont legislature, and the bills which have been proposed and passed, visit the legislative website by clicking here.


Alison Clarkson
State senator
Windsor District

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