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AUSTIN EDITION Session gets off to a rough start

By Brian Bakst and Patrick Condon

Associated Press

ST. PAUL -- So much for peace and harmony in the Legislature.

The first day of the 2005 legislative session opened with party bickering, finger-pointing and accusations.

Promises of bipartisanship showed strain almost immediately, particularly in the House, where DFL gains in the November elections sliced into the Republican majority.

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House DFLers flexed their new muscle, in the form of 13 new members, and tried to overturn several Republican rules they said left them under-represented in important decisions and lacking the staff to serve their constituents.

Since DFLers closed the House Republican majority to 68-66, there had been endless talk of civility and collaboration. They'll probably need it to overcome a projected $700 million deficit, deal with a backlog of road needs and handle a slew of divisive social issues.

"They turned it into a partisan political show the first day, I was extremely disappointed in that," said House Speaker Steve Sviggum, R-Kenyon. "I'll rise higher than that. The House will rise higher than that. We'll overcome the rancor of the first day, which was completely inappropriate."

House Democratic leader Matt Entenza of St. Paul argued that the closeness of the House wasn't fairly reflected in committee assignments.

For example, the Ways and Means panel, which reviews all spending bills, carries a 22-15 Republican advantage. And he said Republicans allotted themselves 20 more staff members than Democrats for research, media relations and constituent outreach.

"The message from voters was to play fair and to get along, and the first thing Republicans did was take the resources for themselves and expose the Democrats on committees," Entenza said. "That's not playing fair."

Sviggum got the number of votes he needed to be re-elected speaker for the fourth time, beating Entenza 67-64. Sviggum has been speaker since 1999.

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