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Just two days into a new legislative session, bipartisanship took a hit as the Senate DFL majority voted to cut the pay of some Republican staffers.
Republicans say some salaries for their staffers will be reduced by as much as 40 percent -- more than they say could be justified by the GOP's new minority status.
"They appear to be partisan. They appear to be punitive," said Senate Minority Leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie. The outcry is a near-mimic of the outrage Democrats expressed when Republicans, then in the majority, cut DFL staffing budgets last year.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said Thursday's actions were fair and had nothing to do with payback for how poorly he felt DFL staffing needs were treated under GOP control.
Instead, he said the new salary levels pay staffers commensurate with their Senate experience, as has been Senate custom. He said when Republicans were in charge they put people "willy nilly" into salary categories that made no sense given their level of experience.
The pay rates were passed by the Minnesota Senate Rules Committee Thursday on a partisan vote.
Soon after, the GOP took its complaint from the little-watched Rules Committee to the Senate floor, as Republican after Republican stood up to complain.
"You can come after me all you want, but don't come after our staff," pleaded Sen. Michelle Benson, R-Ham Lake.
Bakk said the new pay rates were needed because "there's a gorilla in the room and it's the lawsuit against this state Senate that was brought on by behavior of members of your caucus."
The lawsuit was brought by the Republican Senate's former communications director, Michael Brodkorb. He was fired after having an affair with then-Senate Majority Leader Amy Koch, leading to her resignation from leadership. Legal fees in that case are $200,000 so far.
Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, said Bakk should recuse himself from voting because his wife, Laura Bakk, is a senate legislative assistant and will be paid $68,561, one of the top committee staff salaries. "I think it is inappropriate for a senator to vote on an issue that is directly beneficial to them for financial purposes," Newman said after the meeting.
Laura Bakk started in the House in 1975 and moved to the Senate in 1997, according to Senate spokesman Amos Briggs. Sen. Bakk was first elected in 1994.
Newman also questioned whether Faye Sparks, who will be paid $68,723 as committee administrator, is related to DFL Sen. Dan Sparks. Faye Sparks is Dan Sparks' mother. She has been a senate employee since 1991, more than 10 years before her son was elected.
Rachel E. Stassen-Berger Twitter: @rachelsb