The omnibus transportation bill provides $97 million in additional general fund resources for transportation as part of the global budget deal between Governor Walz and legislative leaders. Within the $97 million general fund target, it provides $52 million for the MNLARS replacement system, $23 million for Metro Mobility, $13 million for deputy registrars (FY19), and $20 million for the Disaster Assistance Contingency Account (FY19).
The proposed gas tax, registration tax (tabs), motor vehicle sales tax, and metro-wide transit sales tax increases by Governor Walz and the House DFL majority are not part of the budget agreement. Many believe the special session bill is a ‘lights-on’ transportation with no additional revenue. No progress will be made in addressing the future demands on Minnesota’s transit or transportation system. Currently, Minnesotans already spend over $1,300 per year in increased gasoline costs sitting in traffic, lost productivity, and car repairs due to shoddy roads.
Minnesota’s state highways and bridges face a $6 billion funding gap over the next 10 years, and estimates suggest an $18 billion gap just to maintain current performance of the state’s entire transportation system over the next 20 years. (SF 5)
A $2.25 technology surcharge on all driver and vehicle service transactions was implemented to fund the MNLARS transition to a private vendor as recommended by the governor’s Blue-Ribbon Panel on Information Technology. The technology surcharge is estimated to raise $18 million in annual revenue to support DVS vehicle information technology services. This is in addition to a one-time, $55.6 million general fund appropriation to fund the transition from MNLARS to a private vehicle software vendor ($52 million) and complete the private driver-side FAST software implementation ($3 million).
MNLARS will undergo one final software patch in June through the deficiency funding provided earlier this session and will then be frozen as the new system begins development. The expedited timeline expects to bid the contract early this summer, launch the new software by the end of 2020, and fully decommission MNLARS and legacy systems by fall of 2021.
License plate and validation sticker fees for regular and various plate categories are increased to higher rates from August 2019 until July 2022 due to increased staffing demands with the MNLARS transition. After July 2022, the fees are reduced to lower levels (albeit higher than current law) to continue supporting DVS staffing needs. (SF 5)
- Clarifies existing ‘keep right’ statute relating to passing and requires a public education campaign through the State Patrol. (SF 5)
- Broadens the exception to the prohibition on window tinting so that other family members of the driver with the medical allowance can also operate the vehicle. (SF 5)
- Allows a driver’s license or ID to identify up to three emergency contacts available to law enforcement. (SF 5)
- Allows a driver’s license or ID to identify that the holder has an autism spectrum or mental health condition for use by law enforcement. (SF 5)
- Prohibits auto manufacturers from imposing chargebacks on dealers that are due to registrar delays, allows dealers to move vehicles between dealerships without transferring titles, allows dealers to share titling data for certain purposes, and requires a DVS liaison to assist dealers. (SF 5)
Hands-free driving begins this summer
A bill passed this session will make it illegal to drive with a phone in your hands. According to the Department of Public Safety, distracted driving was a contributing factor in one in five crashes between the years of 2013-2017. During this timeframe, there have been an average of 59 deaths and 223 serious injuries each year in Minnesota as a result of distracted driving.
State law already bans text messaging, emailing, and using a web browser with a handheld device while operating a motor vehicle as a part of traffic. With the change, all handheld device usage while driving would be prohibited including phone calls, accessing apps, or streaming audio or video content.
Passing stricter hands-free only laws is one way to combat the tragic fatalities and injuries that occur due to distracted driving in the state. Minnesotans deserve roadways that are safe and free of distracted drivers. The ban will begin this August, and the State Patrol intends to initiate a public education campaign this summer to inform drivers of the law change. (SF 91)
Light rail operators held accountable
A bill passed this session would subject light rail (LRT) operators to the reckless and careless driving provisions currently in statute, meaning an LRT driver would be guilty of a misdemeanor for reckless or careless driving. If an LRT driver’s reckless or careless operation of a train causes great bodily harm or death, the driver would be guilty of a gross misdemeanor.
The bill is in response to an LRT incident that occurred July 2017 at the intersection of University Avenue and Eustis Street in Saint Paul involving a vehicle and an LRT train. The operator of the light rail train failed to come to a stop at the intersection and hit a vehicle that had the right-of-way crossing University Avenue, resulting in the driver of the vehicle dying from his injuries.
The bill will apply reckless and careless driving statutes to LRT operators in the event of future vehicular collisions. It will close a loophole in state law and help to improve safety on Minnesota’s roads and railways. (SF 1339)
PROVISIONS THAT DID NOT PASS
Driver’s licenses for all
To help ensure safer roads for Minnesota, the drivers licenses for all legislation allows more people to get a valid driver’s license. The bill changes the types of documents needed for people to use as a form of identification that is accepted to receive driver’s licenses.
The bill allows Minnesota ID, provisional, and driver’s license applicants to:
- Use a valid, unexpired passport from another country that shows a photo of the cardholder.
- A certified birth certificate that matches the passport.
- Both the unexpired passport and certified birth certificate must have security measures making it difficult to alter the document.
- Any foreign governmental identification document not in English must have an English translation.
Additionally, the bill repeals the requirement of US citizenship, short-term admission to the US, and authorized presence status. The bill also removes the status check date which shows the lawful period someone is allowed to be in the country. It will no longer be needed to be shown on the driver’s license or ID, which would affect license and ID renewal.
An amendment was accepted to clarify that a “driving card” means a class D driver’s license, provisional license, instructional permit, motorcycle permit, and motorcycle instruction permit (which would not be eligible for voter registration). The card must be designed to say, “FOR DRIVING ONLY” on the back, whereas a Minnesota ID card must say “FOR IDENTITY ONLY”. The bill also requires the secretary of state to notify county auditors that these cards cannot be used for voter registration, and these auditors would inform election judges not to accept them.
According to the Department of Public Safety, the only changes this law would have is that an applicant could then be issued a driver’s license or ID with a valid unexpired passport and a certified birth certificate from another country. Any previous steps applicants would have to make to receive a card remain in place. (SF 2813)