Legislative Report 4/18/2022 - Legislature takes responsibility for integrity and pension systems


Code of Ethics for state government

Back in 2015 the Center for Public Integrity gave Vermont a failing grade from the State Integrity Investigation ranking Vermont 50th out of 50 states in the category of ethics enforcement because it previously had no ethics body of any sort.  In response Vermont passed Act 79 of 2017, enacting its first comprehensive state ethics laws and creating the State Ethics Commission. This week the Legislature took another important step by passing S.171 which creates Vermont’s first statutory State Code of Ethics. Vermont was one of only five states without a code of ethics. In 2020, all six statewide elected officials, the Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Secretary of State, Auditor, Treasurer and Attorney General, called for passage of legislation to create a code of ethics for Vermont’s public servants in all three branches of government. 


The Code of Ethics applies to elected and appointed State officers, the General Assembly, members of the Judiciary and state employees. The Code of Ethics provisions include: 

    • disclosure and recusal for conflicts of interest; 
    • not using a state position, resources or information for personal or financial gain; 
    • limits on gifts to public servants; and 
    • limits on other outside and post-state employment.

S. 171 also provides protection for whistleblowers who report a Code of Ethics violation and mandatory training on the Code of Ethics. By setting out clear rules that public officials must abide by, Vermonters can have confidence in the integrity of our state government.


Pension systems find support

In 2021 the sustainability of the public pension systems covering state employees and teachers was called into question. State Treasurer Beth Pearce announced that the state pension funds for teachers and state employees were underfunded by about $3 billion and recommended that action be taken, including painful changes to pension benefits. These included increasing the retirement age, increasing employee contributions, and lowering the payouts. Teachers and state employees reacted immediately to protect the benefits they had earned by contacting legislators to plead their case. After a considerable amount of controversy within the Legislature and between the Legislature and the unions, a task force consisting of the Treasurer, legislators, and representatives of the unions and of the administration was created to address the problem. This task force worked throughout the summer of 2021 and hammered out a solution that all parties agreed to.


S.286, as passed by the Senate, implements the final recommendations of the task force which are expected to reduce Vermont’s long-term unfunded retirement liabilities for state employees and teachers by approximately $2 billion by prefunding other post-employment benefits (retiree healthcare), modifying the pension benefit structure and making additional State and employee contributions into the retirement systems. The bill contains a $200 million one-time General Fund appropriation to the state employees and teachers’ pension systems to pay down unfunded liabilities. An additional $13.3 million one-time Education Fund appropriation for FY 2022 is made to the Retired Teachers’ Health and Medical Benefit Fund to begin prefunding health care benefits for retired teachers. S.286 was voted out of the House Government Operations Committee and sent to the Ways and Means Committee for review. It is expected to pass and be sent to Governor Scott by the end of this week. 

As always, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238).

Legislative report 4/4/2022 - Security requires being prepared

Having finished our work on bills initiated in the House, committees turned their attention to bills coming from the Senate and to other matters of importance. The Biden Administration recently issued a nationwide alert for Americans to elevate their cybersecurity posture in anticipation of a Russian response to economic sanctions imposed by the West because of the invasion of Ukraine. Vermont is vulnerable to such an attack on many fronts, and it is imperative to be prepared to both minimize vulnerabilities and respond quickly if an attack is successful. The House Energy and Technology Committee started taking testimony on the state of preparedness of critical IT infrastructure in both the public and private sectors. 

"It's not if, it's when, our systems get breached" is a line the House Energy and Technology committee heard repeatedly during our two days of testimony on Vermont’s cybersecurity defenses. Cyberattacks can take many forms: phishing scams, malware, spyware, data breaches, ransomware, and others. It is the responsibility of every entity that relies on a computer system connected to the internet to take the best precautions possible to prevent a cyberattack in the first place and to have a plan of action in case a breach is successful. In addition to hearing from leadership at the Agency of Digital Services and the Departments of Public Safety, Public Service, and Financial Regulation, we heard from UVM Health Network about lessons learned from the ransomware attack they experienced in October 2020. We also heard from representatives from Vermont utilities and banks about their cybersecurity efforts to prevent loss of confidential information, financial resources, and service. We explored how these organizations are working together to share best practices, intelligence on cyber threats, and how they are coordinating with state and federal governments to protect Vermonters’ data and infrastructure.

Banks and other financial institutions, regardless of size, are required by the federal government to maintain strong security measures for their systems and to have incident response plans in place.  The Vermont Bankers Association told us that inter-bank competition stops at the cybersecurity door, that there is excellent sharing of information among its members.  Vermont’s electric utilities are subject to National Electric Reliability Corporation Critical Infrastructure Protection requirements. Also, the Vermont Public Utilities Commission requires Vermont utilities to report annually on their cybersecurity programs.

Be alert and be aware

The testimony we heard gave us considerable assurance that strong protections are in place.  But it also brought to our attention that we as individuals also have a part to play. We need to know how we can be used and how to protect ourselves. The entry point for a breach is often accomplished by “phishing” a user, that is, sending an email or text that seems to be from a legitimate website, colleague, or company with a link or attachment to open. The result is the surreptitious installation of malware or spyware on the user’s computer or asking a user to verify a userid and password or other personally identifiable information to allow the hacker to bypass security in a system.  With the possibility of attacks coming from many directions, protection of our data and the systems we depend on is both a collective and a personal responsibility.  Here are some steps we can all take:

  • Never click on a link or open an attachment unless you are expecting it or can verify that the sender is who they purport to be.
  • If the email is from a company you have an account with, go to the website and log in there instead of clicking on a link.
  • Use two-factor authentication if possible. This is an option that requires not only a password, but a verification code sent to your phone or email account to successfully log in.
  • Maintain different passwords for different accounts.  Password managers like Lastpass, Keeper or Zoho can remove the anxiety of having to remember multiple passwords.

As always, I welcome your emails (myantachka.dfa@gmail.com) or phone calls (802-233-5238).  

New Legislative Maps Approved

 The Vermont House and Senate districts will be changing for the 2022 election.  H.722, the House redistricting bill passed earlier this month, came back from the Senate with their proposal of amendment which added the Senate redistricting proposal. While the Charlotte and Hinesburg House districts are only slightly modified with the Charlotte-Hinesburg district (Chittenden 5) enlarged by one census block of Hinesburg (Chittenden 4), the six-member Chittenden County Senate district was split into three districts: Chittenden North, Chittenden Central, and Chittenden Southeast. Charlotte, along with Bolton, Hinesburg, Jericho, Richmond, Shelburne, South Burlington, St. George, Underhill, Williston, and part of the city of Burlington, will be in Chittenden SE with three senators. Burlington, Winooski and part of Essex will comprise Chittenden Central with three senators, and Milton, Westford, Fairfax and the rest of Essex will make up Chittenden North with one senator. Population shifts over the last decade added one Senate seat to Chittenden county.  The House and Senate redistricting maps can be found at the following sites.