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Lawmakers pass, governor signs compromise MNLARS funding bill

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(UPDATED 7:57 p.m.: Gov. Mark Dayton has signed HF3133 into law.) 

Gov. Mark Dayton has signed a bill providing emergency funding for the state’s beleaguered vehicle license and registration computer system, 

After a month of legislative wrangling over state officials’ request for additional dollars to continue fixing the glitch-riddled system, known as MNLARS, the House on Thursday repassed SF3313 124-6, as amended in conference committee, hours after the Senate did the same on a 47-19 vote.

Sponsored by Rep. Paul Torkelson (R-Hanska) and Sen. Scott Newman (R-Hutchinson), it will appropriate $9.65 million to the Department of Public Safety in Fiscal Year 2018 to continue improvements to the statewide computer system, and $350,000 to put in place strict legislative oversight on how the money is spent and the progress being made.

Dayton said in a statement following the House vote that he would sign the bill “as soon as it reaches my desk.”

“I thank the conference committee for sending me a bill that I can sign,” he said.

Officials from the Public Safety Department and the state’s information technology agency, MN.IT, sought the emergency funds late last month, part of a larger $43 million request. Without them, they said, work on the malfunctioning system would grind to a halt and software engineer contractors on the project would have to be laid off.

State officials issued 30-day layoff notices on March 1, when skeptical lawmakers failed to rush more funding to the incomplete project that has already cost the state more than $90 million.

WATCH House repasses MNLARS funding and oversight bill 

The compromise House and Senate bill would provide those badly-needed funds — but not without strings attached. The legislation proposes to create a new legislative steering committee made up of House and Senate members to review progress on fixing MNLARS and quarterly appropriations for work on the project.

It would also direct $350,000 in funding to the Office of the Legislative Auditor for the appointment of an information technology auditor to closely monitor and report on the development and implementation of MNLARS.

The compromise bill passed Thursday more closely resembles the original Senate version of the bill that passed earlier in the week. Missing from the amended bill OK’d by the conference committee was “clawback language” favored by Torkelson, chair of the House Transportation Finance Committee, which would have required other state agencies to reduce General Fund appropriations by $10 million to cover the cost of the emergency MNLARS funding.

The governor had said he would not sign a bill that “cannibalized other state agencies.” Torkelson called its absence in the legislation heading to Dayton’s desk “a glaring omission.”

MNLARS has been a huge headache for deputy registrars, auto dealers and vehicle owners since the program launched last July full of major defects that led to a huge backlog in unissued titles and difficulties in completing simple tasks like issuing license tabs and plates.

Administration officials have since admitted the system was not ready to go live when it did. That has left MN.IT and the Department of Public Safety scrambling to make major fixes on the fly, and has cost some top agency officials their jobs. 

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