The 48th Utah Legislature starts Monday, and for 45 days Republicans and Democrats will haggle over state spending and hundreds of new laws.

For a number of years, the Legislature has slipped into more and more partisan fights.In the early 1980s, Republicans so dominated both the House and Senate that Democrats felt ignored. GOP members would adjourn to secret caucuses and, among themselves, decide spending levels and important legislation.

That process has opened up in recent years, however, in part because House Republicans lost their two-thirds majority in 1986. Democrats gained another seat in the House this past election - the GOP advantage is now down to 47-28.

Democrats will play even a smaller role in the Senate, however. They lost a seat and now the GOP holds a 22-7, two-thirds majority there.

Some of the most bitter partisan fights occurred during last year's general session and subsequent special sessions.

But this year may be different.

In the House and Senate there seems a new sense of cooperation.

That's mainly because the Democrats, who were feeling pretty cocky after winning 13 seats in the 1986 House races and expected Democrat Ted Wilson to be their governor this year, have been knocked down a peg.

Wilson lost to Republican Gov. Norm Bangerter in November, Democrats failed to win 11 more seats and take control of the House and even lost ground in the Senate.

The 13 "young turk" Democrats who came to the House in 1987 have mellowed a bit, as well.

Also, Republicans have opened the legislative process up in recent years.

One year, House Republicans actually kept every caucus open. But it was tough reaching a consensus in such openness, and at one point House Speaker Robert Garff had to walk among the ranks on the floor asking them privately which of several tax proposals they favored.

In recent years, the House Republicans close their caucuses as they see fit, although most are open.

House and Senate Democrats have held open caucuses for years, although they held closed caucuses when they were the majority way back in the early 1970s.

Republican senators have most of their caucuses open to the press and public, although only a couple of lonely reporters usually attend.

Senators even invite their Democratic colleagues in for lunch and discussion. I've sat through some strange Senate caucuses, with Democrats making motions, arguing points, and taking sides with and against the Republican majority.

Sometimes, when the GOP senators close their caucuses to the press and public the Democrats stay in the closed caucus to argue their points.

Bangerter, in running for office the first time, said it would be inappropriate for him to go into a closed Republican caucus. But he does indeed attend closed caucuses to argue his points, and Democratic senators have stayed in some of those closed Senate caucuses as well.

House Republicans were angered this spring when Democrats used their numbers to stall debate over a tax bill. House rules require two-thirds vote to end debate. Democrats refused to stop talking and placing amendments to a bill, keeping Republicans past midnight one evening.

Some Republicans wanted to retaliate this year and proposed changing the rule so only a majority vote could end debate.

But newly-elected House Speaker Nolan Karras and House Minority Leader Mike Dmitrich struck a truce. "We won't be obstrutionists. We only want our say, and our amendments considered, on a couple of issues," said Dmitrich.

Said Karras: "We decided not to change the rule. We didn't want to start the session with a confrontational tone toward the Democrats."

So look for a more amiable session than last year's, with the "humbled" Democrats and "reasonable" Republicans trying - at least at first - to get along.