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North Dakota legislation would limit governor bonuses

BISMARCK--Top House Republicans have introduced a bill to limit bonuses awarded to a North Dakota governor's staff members and appointees after some controversy in 2015. The legislation, which counts House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, as ...

North Dakota State Capitol building in Bismarck
(Wikipedia / Bobak Ha'Eri)

BISMARCK-Top House Republicans have introduced a bill to limit bonuses awarded to a North Dakota governor's staff members and appointees after some controversy in 2015.

The legislation, which counts House Majority Leader Al Carlson, R-Fargo, as a sponsor, limits a bonus paid to an employee in the governor's office or state officer appointed by the governor to 10 percent of their annual salary or $5,000, whichever is less.

House Appropriations Committee Chairman Jeff Delzer, R-Underwood, is the primary sponsor of the bill. He said it was crafted in response to retention bonuses paid to some members of former Gov. Jack Dalrymple's Cabinet and a handful of his staffers in 2015.

"It just wasn't well accepted, what Gov. Dalrymple did at that particular time," Delzer said Friday, Jan. 6. "He felt he needed to do it, and he had the right to do it, we just want to make sure that future governors understand that that's not what we think should be done."

Five of Dalrymple's staffers received almost $100,000 combined in retention bonuses in June 2015. Two of his Cabinet members, Office of Management and Budget Director Pam Sharp and Department of Human Services Director Maggie Anderson, received more than $58,000 in retention bonuses combined. Both are now members of Republican Gov. Doug Burgum's Cabinet.

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Burgum had no comment on the bill Friday afternoon, his spokesman Mike Nowatzki said.

News of the bonuses came just a few months before Dalrymple, a Republican, ordered state agencies to cut their budgets due to slumping oil and farm commodities prices.

Dalrymple defended the bonuses at the time, arguing they were necessary to retain highly talented employees in state government. But lawmakers on both sides of the aisle said Friday they felt the payouts were excessive.

"We like to reward good work, but we think we're paying our people very well," Carlson said. "The public was not happy."

The legislation would add language to a section of existing state law that says state agencies must fund recruitment and retention bonus programs from within the agency salaries and wages budget. The law allows state agencies to develop those bonus programs for employees in "hard-to-fill occupations."

A separate section of state law governing state employee performance bonuses include a limit of $1,000 per fiscal year. The section on recruitment or retention bonuses doesn't contain such a limit.

Carlson's counterpart, House Minority Leader Corey Mock, D-Grand Forks, said he would support House Bill 1153 in its current form, arguing state leaders should try to create "a culture of fairness."

Senate Minority Leader Joan Heckaman, D-New Rockford, agreed that the Dalrymple bonuses were "in excess" of what they should have been, but she hesitated to comment on the merits of the bill before it comes over to the Senate. Senate Majority Leader Rich Wardner, R-Dickinson, said he supports the legislation.

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Related Topics: DOUG BURGUM
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