Just two days into the new legislative session, tension erupted in the Minnesota Senate as Democrats passed pay standards for senate staffers that Republicans claimed were unfair.
Republicans say some pay rates for their staffers were reduced by up to 40 percent, more than they think could be justified by their new minority status.
"What's being applied is only being applied to Republican partisan staff," said Senate minority leader David Hann, R-Eden Prairie.
Senate Majority Leader Tom Bakk, DFL-Cook, said their actions were fair and corrected Republicans' moves, when they were in charge, that put people "willy nilly" into salary categories that made no sense given their experience. When Republicans were in charge, Bakk had vigorous complaints about proposed cuts to DFL staff but he said the Democrats' action on Thursday were not pay back for that.
The pay rates passed the Minnesota Senate Rules committee Thursday on a partisan vote, only after a proposal from Republican Sen. Paul Gazelka to make sure no employees' salary was reduced by more than 10 percent failed on a partisan vote.
During the meeting, Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, also suggested that Bakk should recuse himself from voting on the pay and staff roster because his wife, Laura Bakk, is a senate legislative assistant. According to the roster, she 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.
Bakk noted that his wife worked for the senate long before he was a senator. Laura Bakk started in the House 1975 and started in the senate 1997. 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 Democratic Sen. Dan Sparks. Indeed, Faye Sparks is Dan Sparks mother. She has been a senate employee since 1991, more than ten years before her son was elected.