PASSED AND SIGNED INTO LAW
MNLARS funding and policy – SF 3133
The Legislature appropriated $10 million to improve the Minnesota License and Registration System (MNLARS), which became plagued with technical problems after its rollout in July 2017. Lawmakers appropriated the money from an existing account in Driver and Vehicle Services. It includes $350,000 over the next two years to pay for an information technology audit and improve interaction with stakeholders like deputy registrars. Resources will get distributed on a quarterly basis under the direction of a steering committee of six lawmakers, who will receive quarterly progress reports from the Department of Public Safety (DPS) and the Office of Information Technology (MN.IT). If a majority of the steering committee votes to slow, reduce, or condition the release of the quarterly allotments based on the progress report, the commissioners have 20 days to resolve lawmakers’ concerns. If lawmakers are still not satisfied, the quarterly allotment is withheld. As a result, DPS and MN.IT would need to propose a process to fund MNLARS during the next legislative session. The steering committee has met twice thus far. Additional meetings are being scheduled.
Ditch mowing – SF 3569
The Legislature extended for one year a moratorium on MnDOT permits to mow ditches and bail hay in highway rights-of-way. A group of stakeholders convened by Governor Dayton representing MnDOT officials, county engineers, farmers, and wildlife habitat advocates is developing new recommendations. All agree that progress is being made toward an agreeable solution that balances road safety, farming practices, and wildlife and pollinator habitat preservation. Some critics are concerned that pollinator and wildlife management are at risk and prefer creating a ditch management pilot project in the MnDOT Metro District.
DID NOT PASS
Hands-free cell phone/distracted driving bill – SF 837
Legislation to prohibit the handheld use of cellular phones while driving stalled despite strong citizen advocacy and overwhelming public support. The bill prohibits the use of cell phones and navigation devices while driving—in motion, or as part of traffic, including use at stoplights – unless it is used in a hands-free mode. Exceptions are granted for emergencies and emergency responders. According to the Governors Highway Safety Association, 15 states, D.C., Puerto Rico, Guam and the U.S. Virgin Islands prohibit drivers from using hand-held cell phones while driving.
Constitutional amendment to dedicate sales tax revenues – SF 3837
A well-publicized bill to divert sales tax dollars from auto repairs, parts, and short-term rentals via a constitutional amendment did not become law. The amendment phased in the diversion of general fund dollars in order to constitutionally dedicate $530 million to transportation every biennium starting in 2020. According to estimates, the state needs $900 million annually to maintain its current transportation system.
Proponents of this idea say that the state is long overdue for increased transportation spending and construction jobs are at stake. Although the increased funding will still be inadequate, any infusion of cash will be put to good use to repair our state’s aging road and bridge infrastructure.
Opponents say general fund dollars, which are primarily spent on education, health care, and local government aid, should not be used as a tradeoff against transportation. Because these funds would be constitutionally dedicated, the shift would be permanent. In the event of an economic downturn, the tax dollars could not be shifted back to the general fund.
Supplemental budget – SF 3656
The budget appropriates $30 million in Trunk Highway Fund expenditures, of which $20 million is used to pay for a single project in a Republican district. The budget also appropriates general fund expenditures totaling $57.7 million in FY 2019 and $2.9 million in FY 2020-2021 to pay for a new runway approach at the Rochester International Airport, a suburb-to-suburb connection transit project, assistance to small cities, township roads, and local bridge replacement. The budget’s noteworthy policy provisions include:
- Creating a new petty misdemeanor crime to drive slower than the flow of traffic in the left lane, with the minimum fine increased to $100.
- Requiring MnDOT to enter into negotiations with BNSF to extend the Northstar Commuter Line to St. Cloud.
- Changing the Metropolitan Council’s auditing requirements and budgeting assumptions.
- Extending Metro Mobility Service to Lakeville, with DHS data sharing provisions, without appropriating funding to pay for it.
- Prohibiting local governments from establishing bike lanes or bikeways if it results in the elimination or relocation of disability parking.
- Modify driver’s license suspension procedures and violations that can result in a driver’s license suspensions so failure to pay fines for minor infractions does not result in a suspension.
- Authorizing a county board to increase or decrease the speed limit by 5 or 10 mph on certain roads within the county’s jurisdiction
- Requiring railroad crossing safety requirements to include on-track equipment
MNLARS budget provisions – HF 3463
The budget appropriates approximately $14 million for MNLARS development, fixes, and improvements. There are strict limitations on how the funds can be spent, including a prohibition on hiring new Department of Public Safety employees. This is problematic because employees with expertise on the issuance of vehicle registration, titles, or driver’s licenses cannot be involved in the development of MNLARS – only software and technical staff can.
Despite hundreds of thousands of calls from Minnesotans going unanswered at the Public Information Call Center, Republican lawmakers refused to provide funding to hire additional customer service staff, even on a temporary basis. As a result, Minnesotans are not getting answers to their questions in a timely manner.
The budget bill would have made additional changes to MNLARS’ functionality, including how vehicle titles are processed. For example, deputy registrars would be able to edit certain aspects of vehicle registration transactions, which would likely shorten the delay on completing transactions. However, giving deputy registrars this ability would not be re-prioritized over other improvements to the entire MNLARS system, potentially causing more costly delays and frustration.
Governor Dayton also vetoed a separate bill requested by the Minnesota Automobile Dealers Association that endangered MNLARS’ daily operations at the expense of business preferences.
Deputy registrar reimbursements – HF 2835
Deputy registrars are incurring substantial costs as a result of missing transactions, overtime, and system outages related to technical problems with MNLARS. Governor Dayton and lawmakers agree that deputy registrars should receive compensation for revenue losses that were no fault of their own.
Instead of working with Governor Dayton in a good faith effort to find a solution that all parties could agree on, Republicans used a risky maneuver to pay for the $9 million needed to make deputy registrars whole.
Rather than pay for the reimbursements from the general fund as Governor Dayton requested, Republicans drained Driver and Vehicle Services resources by repurposing $9 million from their funds for reimbursement grants and requiring substantial software changes to the MNLARS system that could potentially cost millions of dollars – without a penny dedicated to making those changes. At best, these attempts would have drained Driver and Vehicle Services budget to perilously low levels – roughly 1% of the minimum reserve level. At worst, the Republicans would have spent the fund into deficit.
Rather than recreate the financial calamity of past years, Governor Dayton vetoed the bill, promising to continue to work to find a way to compensate deputy registrars for the business losses. An attempt to override the Governor’s veto failed in the House. As a result, the Senate did not vote to override the veto.