Tim Leeds Havre Daily News email@example.com
The Speaker of the Montana House of Representatives said in a release that he was “disappointed” that a house committee had tabled his bill preventing lame duck officials from paying their staff last-minute bonuses. “Its disappointing that the committee failed to act on an issue as clearcut as this,” Rep. Bob Bergren, D-Havre, said in the release. “This bill is about good clean government and protecting taxpayer money. It’s not an issue that needs a study, a commission, a panel, or any other kind of political foot-dragging.” Bergren sponsored the bill following news reports that Montana Secretary of State Brad Johnson had awarded nearly $58,000 in bonuses to nine appointed members of his staff in the final days of his administration. When Linda McCulloch, who won the position in the November general election, took office she stopped the payment of the bonuses until she got an opinion on their legality. Afte a legal opinion from the Department of Administration's legal staff that the bonuses weren’t legal, McCulloch cancelled their payment. In the current legislative session, Bergren sponsored House Bill 358, which would have made it illegal for a statewide elected official to pay his or Her personal staff any type of bonus or special compensation between the date of the general election and the date that the official’s term in office expired. The bill was tabled in committee, and failed a vote to bring to the floor of the House for a reading Monday, 53-46. “As with most Montanans, I believe there should be strict restrictions in place to stop elected officials from handing out tens-of-thousands of dollars in 11th hour cash to political appointees at the end of term,” Bergren said. On Friday the State Administration Committee also tabled HB 594, sponsored by Rep. Chuck Hunter, D-Helena, which would have put a $1,000 limit on bonuses to any state employee.