TRANSPORTATION

COVID-19 provisions passed

Driver’s license expiration extensions

Legislation passed this session to extend the expiration date for drivers’ licenses, including instruction permits, provisional licenses, operator permits, limited licenses, and farm work licenses, and any Minnesota identification cards during the peacetime emergency. The expiration date extension also applies to out-of-state licensees and disability certificates and permits that were set to expire during the peacetime emergency.

The extension is provided to expired licenses/IDs until the end of the second consecutive month following the month the peacetime emergency terminates. For example, if the peacetime emergency ends any day in June, drivers with licenses that display expired dates would have until August 31to renew their licenses. Drivers may continue to operate vehicles with an expired license during the peacetime emergency and the subsequent two months without penalty. A clarification was added in a subsequent bill to allow drivers whose licenses expire the month after the peacetime emergency ends the same extension to renew their license. (HF 4531)    

Temporary DVS appropriation

The Department of Public Safety Drivers and Vehicle Services was provided $2.4 million for vehicle services employees to address the anticipated backlog in driver and vehicle services. The appropriation will help the agency process and issue drivers’ licenses and ID cards as DVS offices reopen May 26. In Minnesota, 147 driver and vehicle service, deputy registrar, and drivers’ license agent offices have closed over the past two months, causing a backlog of applications for driver’s license applications and renewals.

The funding is a one-time resource available until December 31, 2020 and must be used to accomplish a turnaround time of 45 days for applicants to receive their ID. Once this timeline is accomplished, the commissioner must reduce temporary staffing to maintain an average turnaround time of 45 days. No funding may be used for permanent staff and it is only dedicated for the processing and issuing of driver’s licenses. (HF 4531)

Transportation and public safety COVID accommodations

Legislative leaders representing transportation and public safety issues came to a bipartisan agreement on a variety of proposals to continue to address mobility and supply chain concerns during the COVID-19 crisis.

The changes allow out-of-state drivers a license extension, commercial drivers an exemption to in-person license renewal requirements, extend the expiration of non-passenger vehicle tabs that cannot be renewed online, and allow Metro Transit to use federal funds to protect drivers and keep public facilities sanitary.

Ensuring that commercial truckers are able to continue the delivery of critical goods and maintain supply chains has been a priority for legislators. These changes streamlined commercial license renewals during the peacetime emergency, along with efforts by the Department of Public Safety to resume road exams for new commercial drivers’ license applicants. (HF 4556)

Transportation policy omnibus

A bipartisan coalition of legislators and transportation advocates compiled a list of noncontroversial transportation policy proposals that unanimously passed the Legislature this week. Notable provisions include the requirement for school buses to use their warning lights and stop arms when making school supply and meal deliveries to students. Bus drivers right now may only use these devices when school children are being transported.

A privacy provision will allow drivers involved in a collision to provide an email address or mailing address to the other driver instead of their actual residential address for safety purposes. Drivers’ licenses and Minnesota ID cards will now provide the option for people with mental conditions to possess a license bearing a graphic or written identifier to help law enforcement.

Additional provisions accommodate drivers by waiving the requirement for a new photo and eye exam to renew their non-REAL ID license as long as their name, address, and driver’s license number have not changed. This change is intended to resolve difficulty in maintaining social distances at DVS and other licensing offices.

Senate DFLers are working hard to provide policy changes that will help Minnesotans during these uncertain times, from protecting our students while they’re distance learning to making social distancing easier at places such as the DMV. (HF 462)

Non-COVID provisions passed

Highway 14 Funding

A bill was signed into law to dedicate approximately $4 million annually in the trunk highway fund to repay the interest on a federal loan that MnDOT is expected to apply for. The loan MnDOT will be applying for is a $36 million Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (TIFIA) loan through the Rural Project Initiative to fund construction of the last stretch of Highway 14. The project will complete the final 12 miles of Highway 14 that are not yet expanded to four lanes between New Ulm and Mankato.

The agency believes statutory language is necessary to divert trunk highway funds to pay the interest on the loan. Interest rates on TIFIA loans are low—typically 1.2-1.3%. Local governments have committed another $36 million to the project, and MNDOT believes the agency has the capacity to find revenue to pay the remaining $20 million gap (potentially through another federal grant).

The Rural Project Initiative is a special federal program passed as part of TIFIA that provides low-cost loans for transportation projects to small and rural communities across the country. Fixed interest rate loans are available for up to 49% of a project’s eligible costs.

The cities and towns of southern Minnesota are in strong support of this DFL-authored legislation, which will improve public safety and commerce along Highway 14. Numerous accidents and fatalities on Highway 14 have demonstrated the need to expand the highway to four lanes and fund other safety improvements to the corridor. (SF 3878)

Salvage title consumer protection

Legislation passed this session will expand the issuance of salvage titles to all vehicles that receive a total loss settlement from an insurance company. Consumers may not be aware of safety defects of lower value vehicles that have been totaled; this reform will provide them with more information on vehicles they intend to buy.

Under current law, only high-value vehicles (over $9,000 in cash value) and late model vehicles (under five years old) are required to have a salvage title if the vehicle is involved in an incident that an insurance company deems to be a repairable but total loss. Vehicles that do not fit within this classification may be given a ‘clean’ title regardless of whether the vehicle was determined to be totaled. This means lower value vehicles that have been totaled but repaired can slip under the radar of consumers because they don’t require a salvage title.

This legislation is an important consumer protection measure because it will prevent consumers from paying inflated prices for structurally compromised vehicles that don’t possess a salvage title. (SF 2224)

Non-COVID provisions not passed

Third party testers

Senate Republicans passed legislation not accepted by the House that would have allowed private driving schools to administer their own driving tests to students, which raises significant safety concerns. The Department of Public Safety Driver and Vehicle Services has a public interest in maintaining safety on Minnesota’s public roadways. Transferring authority to for-profit entities would have created a conflict of interest for these schools by allowing them to pass drivers that may not be ready to drive on public roadways.

The proposal was not reviewed by the Teen Driver Safety Taskforce to ensure the program maintains current teen safety outcomes. Minnesota ranks high in teen driver safety, which is due to high standards to obtain a drivers’ license. Additional concerns with private road testing include a lack of clear criteria for testers, no background check required for examiners, and no limit on the fees they may charge. This would have created a two-tier system of public and private road tests, with more affluent applicants able to buy their road test instead of applying for a test from DVS.

The 2019 special session Transportation Omnibus Bill appropriated over $1 million per biennium to fund a new metro-area DVS exam station with 11 staffers that, once trained, will be able to provide an additional 140 driver tests per day. The additional resources to fund the new driver exam station will also increase capacity at DVS locations and private deputy registrars across the entire state to more adequately staff these offices, which includes driver examiners.

The need to discontinue road tests based on the Stay at Home order and CDC social distancing guidelines has only exacerbated the backlog of applicants waiting for a road test. DVS has introduced a plan to address the backlog of road tests—more than 12,000 Class D appointments have been cancelled—and plans to consolidate road testing sites so that instructors can focus exclusively on road examinations. By consolidating 93 exam station locations down to 15 regional exam hubs located statewide, DVS plans to build staffing efficiencies and address the backlogs. The proposed exam hubs are Town Square, Arden Hills, Anoka, Eagan, Plymouth, Rochester, Mankato, Marshall, Willmar, Detroit Lakes, St. Cloud, Brainerd, Duluth, Grand Rapids, and Bemidji. DPS is also requesting approval from DOLI and MMB on a plan to require applicants and instructors to wear masks in vehicles during examinations and develop extensive sanitation practices.

Conceding testing to private entities is not the solution to ensure drivers’ license applicants receive timely and comprehensive road exams and that Minnesota drivers are adequately trained to maintain safety on our roadways. (SF 3226)

Transit and efficient transportation

The Senate DFL supports improving mass transit and reducing its cost to make it more attractive to commuters, which will help to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Minnesota’s communities. Adequately funding public transit is a critical component of environmental justice, because no Minnesotan deserves to develop health problems tied to poor air quality.

Increasing transit connects people to jobs, students to school, gives seniors greater independence, and is a proven way to alleviate poverty. It allows us to fill jobs that need workers, and to connect those who need jobs with employment. Transportation contributes more greenhouse gas emissions into the environment than any other sector other than agriculture in Minnesota. While GHG emissions in the energy sector are trending down, they have an upward trajectory in the transportation sector. This provides us a strong argument to push for forms of transportation that are less carbon intensive, including transit, carpooling and HOV lanes, and electric vehicle infrastructure.

Bike and pedestrian policy are essential to include in our transportation portfolio. Creating communities that incentivize people to move from car trips to biking and walking trips will significantly help reduce GHGs from transportation. Additionally, this places transportation at the intersection of healthy communities and healthy living.

Unfortunately, Senate Republicans refused to invest in public transit this session. No funding or investment in mass transit made its way into the 2020 Republican-proposed bonding bill, and in particular, efforts to expand Bus Rapid Transit options like Line D were ignored. The Senate DFL is committed to expanding mass transit options and lowering costs to increase mobility and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

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