Priorities for our Attorney General and Secretary of State
As part of our VDP blog exclusives, this week I caught up with two more of Vermont’s statewide elected officials, Attorney General Bill Sorrell and Secretary of State Jim Condos. With a high number of legislation and policy initiatives heating up in the legislature, the VDP gives you the inside scoop on the legislative priorities of our officials.
Attorney General Bill Sorrell is Vermont’s senior most incumbent statewide elected official. Serving for 16 years, Sorrell has won eight straight elections, including his landslide victory over his Republican opponent Jack McMullen last fall.
This session, the Attorney General has publicly weighed in on a number of legislative issues, include equal pay and the decriminalization of marijuana.
Part of the reason why H.99, the equal pay bill, was so important to Sorrell was because “…it’s not only the right thing to do, it’s the law.” Sorrell noted how his Civil Rights Unit enforces anti-discrimination law that is currently part of employment statutes. However, existing law needed to be beefed up.
“My office co-sponsored a conference on equal pay issues at UVM last June and have been actively involved in a working group that grew out of the conference,” Sorrell noted. “The equal pay act has been a priority recommendation of the group.”
The bill, which is currently in the Senate, has a very good chance of passing.
The Attorney General also mentioned that he’s been a proponent of the decriminalization of small amounts of marijuana for a long time.
“I have been a public supporter of and have testified before the legislature in support of the decriminalization legislation,” he said. “Among the reasons for [my] support are that Vermont has approved marijuana for medical usage and that Washington and Colorado have now legalized the drug. A criminal conviction for possession of a small amount of marijuana can have very harmful impacts on a person’s employability and eligibility for certain governmental benefits.”
When I inquired about what other legislation the Attorney General would like to see this session, he mentioned, “[the] enactment of responsible death with dignity legislation, greater access to police investigative files in closed cases, and efforts to enhance transparency and competition in the auto fuels industry.”
Secretary of State Jim Condosran unopposed last fall and begins his second term in the office with a lot of momentum. A former Chittenden County State Senator himself, Condos isn’t afraid to show up in committee rooms and weigh in on the issues at hand.
Condos says he’s chief concern this session are campaign finance reform and enhancing the integrity of Vermont’s elections. He believes that the unprecedented barrage from Vermonters First last fall isn’t something that Vermonters are comfortable with.
“Following the 2014 elections, where we had a Super PAC with a one million dollar contribution from a single donor trying to influence Vermont’s elections. We started the legislative year with all three major parties in support of major changes to tighten definitions, improve the process, and generally create a more transparent campaign finance system with better disclosure,” says Condos.
The Secretary of State noted that because of the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision, limiting the spending of Super PACs is, unfortunately, off the table. That’s why, Condos says, transparency is the key and that “…the way to the future is a downloadable searchable database.”
The Secretary of State is a little fearful that the campaign finance database he wants to implement will take a little more time than he’d like it to.
“In an ideal world,” said Condos, “I would like it up and running for the 2014 elections. Unfortunately, it will take an appropriation by the legislature, and due to timing, I think the best we can do is to implement the new system in time for the start of the 2016 election cycle in January 2015.”
But even without committed funding, Condos says that his office is getting their ducks in a row so that the process moves smoothly once they have funding. “We are moving forward with an assessment of the business requirements and needs, and we hope to have an RFP (request for proposal) ready to go out during the fall of 2013. Then, pending legislative appropriation in 2014, begin the development and implementation.”
In other areas, Condos says that his office is working hard on a number of housekeeping projects and is working diligently to make the office run more smoothly in the information age.
“At the State Archives and Records Administration, we continue to work with all agencies and departments to improve records management and transparency in government along with protecting the state's most important documents like the Vermont Constitution,” said Condos.
“Administratively, we have worked with the Governor's team and the legislature on how we are funded, and I am pleased to report that as of FY14 the Secretary of State no longer uses state General Fund dollars for its operational needs.”
Condos also mentioned that he was proud to announce that Will Senning has taken over as Director of Elections and Campaign Finance.