HELENA - House Speaker Bob Bergren asked for a bill to be drafted Monday to prevent statewide elected officials from giving bonuses to their top appointees at the end of their terms.
If legally possible, Bergren, a Havre Democrat, said he wants like to make it retroactive to halt the nearly $58,000 in "performance awards" that former Republican Secretary of State Brad Johnson authorized for nine departing top appointees.
"When we're asking all these hard-working state employees to take pay freeze and contribute to helping the states in these troubling times, these guys are basically running out with a bank bag when they're leaving office," Bergen said.
Johnson approved the payments Nov. 25, three weeks after the election, for these appointees, with the checks scheduled to be issued Jan. 14. Johnson left office Jan. 5.
Democratic Secretary of State Linda McCulloch, who defeated Johnson in the November election, put a hold Friday on the issuance of the check while the state Department of Administration investigates their legality.
Bergren said he will ask a legislative attorney whether he can retroactively stop the "performance awards" that Johnson issued. The bonuses, equal to 10 percent of the top appointees' annual salaries, ranged from $8,755 to $3,502.
Johnson defended the awards on Friday.
"Bottom line is this: that team did a remarkable job serving the people of Montana," Johnson said. "I do not apologize for a minute for these performance awards. We did extensive research before they were granted and believe they were appropriate and legal."