6 bills — tackling municipal ethics, animal welfare and more — become Vermont law

By EMMA COTTON

VtDigger

Published: 06-14-2024 8:55 AM

Gov. Phil Scott signed bills related to animal welfare, diversity in courts and addiction recovery support on Monday. He allowed bills related to cannabis, education and a municipal code of ethics to pass into law without his signature. 

The Republican governor signed H.626, a response to a number of animal cruelty cases across the state and the absence of a designated governmental entity to investigate and respond to them. 

The law creates a new animal welfare division within the Department of Public Safety, and it designates a single employee to be the division’s director. That person is required to develop a plan “for the development, implementation, and enforcement of the animal welfare laws of the State.”

Scott on Monday also signed H.780, a bill that aims to increase diversity in Vermont’s courts. The legislation adds the executive director of racial equity to the Judicial Nominating Board, an 11-member body of lawmakers, lawyers and other officials who nominate candidates for vacant judicial positions.

It also requires a judicial nominee to have lived in Vermont for the five years preceding their appointment, and it requires the nominating board to consider “the extent to which a candidate would contribute to a Judicial branch that has diverse backgrounds and a broad range of lived experience.”

A third bill, H.847, which creates a peer support provider and recovery support specialist certification program within the Vermont Secretary of State’s Office of Professional Regulation, also won Scott’s signature. 

The governor allowed H.875 to pass into law without his signature. The law establishes a “municipal code of ethics” that applies to local officials such as selectboard members, clerks and planning commissioners, among others. It’s similar to a code of ethics for state officials that took effect two years ago. 

The code sets baseline standards for municipalities regarding conflicts of interest, preferential treatment, gifts and other potential issues. It’s designed to create more consistency between municipalities that have robust ethics policies in place and those that don’t.

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In a letter to lawmakers, Scott said that a “uniform statewide code of ethics that applies to all those performing public service in state government” could increase “faith and trust in the institutions of our democracy.” But he expressed concerns about a lack of funding in the bill for an executive director of municipal compliance, which could “add to the municipal tax burden.”

“Everyone seems to agree ethics policies across the whole of government are important, and for that reason, this bill will become law despite my concerns,” he said, adding that he hopes lawmakers will address his concerns next session. 

Scott allowed H.630 to go into law without his signature. The measure encourages school districts to share educational services and grants on a county level through boards of cooperative education services.

Scott also allowed H.612 to pass into law without his signature. The measure makes a slate of changes to Vermont’s laws on cannabis, and Scott said it takes “some steps forward, and some steps back” in terms of guardrails that keep the product safe to use.