A select bipartisan, bicameral committee has been asked to examine more than $1.2 million in state employee settlements since the beginning of 2017.

The committee, consisting of six Republicans and four Democrats was appointed by Senate President Scott Sales and Speaker of the House Austin Knudsen.

Senate Majority Leader Fred Thomas explained the genesis of the investigation.

“State employee settlements have kind of skyrocketed under the current administration,” began Thomas. “While they’ve always been there, they’ve gone along from $50,000 to $100,000 under the Schweitzer administration per year, but currently in just five years under the current administration of Governor Bullock, they’re now at $2.7 million.”

Thomas said the panel will dig into whatever has caused the dramatic increase in settlements.

“We want to find out what’s behind this,” he said. “Is there anything going on that the public should know? Then, to work towards the public policy of making sure that public monies are revealed to the public and no sheltered from public sight via settlement agreements.”

Thomas said there are instances where state employees are due compensation because of wrongdoing in the workplace.

“When someone has a legitimate beef that went on in their employment, where there was sexual harassment, or they were wrongly treated at work and they were fired, and then okay, we’re going to give you $100,000 but you have to agree that you won’t tell anyone,” he said. “This is public money and those kind of deals are not to be done.”

Sales and Knudsen released the following statement on the formation of the select committee:

“The issue of Governor Bullock paying off disgruntled state employees has been raised many times, but with this memo we can clearly see the dramatic spike in settlement payments beginning in 2013 all the way through today. Montana taxpayers fund our state government and in accordance with the Montana Supreme Court, we have a right to know why state employees are being paid off as they leave office. The select committee will work to bring light to this issue.”

The Select Committee on State Settlement Accountability is a bicameral bipartisan committee appointed by Sales and Knudsen. Members will examine concerns raised during Governor Bullock’s 2016 reelection campaign on the high cost of employee settlements, as well as whistleblower allegations that came to light during the 2017 legislative session.

Members of the committee include:

Members include:

Sen. Nels Swandal, (R) SD 30 (Chair)

Sen. Keith Regier, (R) SD 3

Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick, (R) SD 10

Sen. Nate McConnell (D) SD 48

Sen. Mary Caferro, (D) SD 40

Rep. Ron Ehli (R) HD 88

Rep. Alan Doane (R) HD 36

Rep. Forrest Mandeville (R) HD 57

Rep. Brad Hamlett (D) HD 23

Rep. Kimberly Dudik (D) HD 94