(TNS) — Minnesota lawmakers and Gov. Mark Dayton appear to have reached a compromise on emergency funding for MNLARS — the state’s troubled computer system that handles vehicles titles and license plates.
Thursday morning, a joint House-Senate committee unanimously approved a nearly $10 million emergency funding plan that allows work on fixing the system to continue.
The plan was slated for votes by the full House and Senate later in the day, and senior state officials indicated Dayton is prepared to sign the bill.
The presumed passage and signing of the compromise will free up the state’s pursestrings to continue to work on the problem. It will also put an end to the political drama surrounding it — for now.
WHAT THE PLAN DOES
The plan allows the state’s Department of Driver and Vehicle Services (DVS, aka the “DMV”) to transfer $9.65 million immediately from an existing fund to keep working on fixing MNLARS, which has been beset by problems since it launched in July. The state has spent at least $93 million already on it, and officials have said that, in hindsight, it never should have launched.
Here are some provisions of the plan:
WHAT CHANGES NOW?
Jobs are secure. MNIT, the state’s information technology agency, can continue to fund 39 contractor software engineer positions. The department was scheduled to run out of money for nearly all of those jobs by the end of the month. Two supervisor contractors have left in the past month, but an official with MN.IT said they hope to replace them soon and are optimistic no more will leave now that their jobs are secure. While termination notices went out to all 39 contractors March 1, none were actually let go. There’s new oversight. A “steering committee” of six lawmakers will review MNLARS progress — and can halt funding on a quarterly basis. There’s a deep-dive auditor. Under the plan, the office of legislative auditor — a investigative watchdog that answers to lawmakers — will hire a “technical auditor” who has “expertise in .NET software development” to probe what’s going on with MNLARS. There’s some IT reform. Moving forward, MNIT must first look to the private sector before deciding to create major software programs in-house. This actually happened with MNLARS, but a contract with HP fell apart several years ago and the state took over. There’s a RealID component. The bill requires Dayton to seek an extension of an October deadline to comply with new federal driver’s license standards. Without the extension, standard drivers licenses won’t work for boarding commercial airplanes and accessing military bases. With an extension, no sweat. Here’s more on that.
For regular Minnesotans trying to get license plates or titles, nothing changes.
MNLARS currently works fine for most things, but numerous shortcomings remain that continue to frustrate license center workers, auto dealers and regular people whose transactions aren’t straightforward.
WILL THEY NEED MORE MONEY?
Yes. MNIT originally asked for $43 million to get MNLARS working as it should by the fall of 2019. This roughly $10 million is just part of that.
Before the current legislative session ends in May, lawmakers will have to tackle this.
And license centers, auto dealers, auction houses, insurance agencies and others have spent extra money as a result of the MNLARS fiasco. They want reimbursement, and lawmakers from both parties have said they want to provide such compensation. No one knows how much that should be, but the figure is likely in the millions.
Additionally, a number of bills are still floating around to further reform how the state deals with information technology, including one plan that would abolish MNIT.
SO EVERYONE IS HAPPY?
Hardly. Lawmakers from both parties have been frustrated by what’s been widely characterized as a fiasco, and finger-pointing over who-knew-what-and-when and whom should be held accountable isn’t likely to end with this. Nonetheless, lawmakers and officials with MNIT and the Department of Public Safety thanked each other Thursday morning and said they look forward to continuing to work on it.
©2018 the Pioneer Press (St. Paul, Minn.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.