MN senator: Heads need to roll over license system snafus

The Minnesota Senate's transportation committee chair says he’s lost confidence in the people running the state’s troubled vehicle licensing and registration system, and he wants them replaced.

Sen. Scott Newman talked to reporters after a hearing on the MNLARS licensing system. Tim Pugmire|MPR News

Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, called for drastic changes Thursday at the end of a public hearing that provided no firm answer about when the system will be fixed.

“I am frustrated in the extreme with what has transpired,” Newman said.

Newman raised concerns about the project cost, which has already topped $93 million over 10 years. He also said he has lost faith in the ability of the two agencies in charge of the system, Minnesota IT Services and the Department of Public Safety, to finish the job.

“I for one am going to be extremely reluctant to provide further funding, until the people who have been working on this thing over the years are no longer employed by the state of Minnesota,” he said.

Newman and other senators asked state officials repeatedly when the system’s remaining problems will be fixed. They did not get an answer, but were told that a “road map” for the fix will be ready by the end of the month.

Dana Bailey, executive director of projects and initiatives at Minnesota IT Services, said after the hearing that lawmakers will have an answer soon. Bailey said Newman’s call for resignations would not be helpful.

“Mass exodus of any fingerprints that have ever been on the project would be incredibly unfortunate,” Bailey said. “You need that institutional knowledge about what was happening with the system and how it was built and what was happening in order to fix it.”

The agency began making some staffing changes related to the system in November.

Problems with the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) began with its launch last summer. Auto dealers, deputy registrars and others told members of the Senate transportation committee that many of those problems persist.

Scott Lambert, president of the Minnesota Auto Dealers Association, said his members are still dealing with lengthy delays for title transfers and other paperwork.

“This is a core function of government that is simply not working, and it’s not getting better, and it’s not getting better fast enough. I think it’s safe to say our members have settled into a new reality of regular dysfunction when it comes to MNLARS.”

The local offices that issue license tabs have also complained regularly about the system. But Jeff Orth, a deputy registrar from Rochester, said he has been seeing improvement.

“I think we’re seeing some light at the end of the tunnel, and we’ve got, I think, systems in place to bring about the needed change.”

Sen. Melisa Franzen said she also believes progress has been made. Franzen, DFL-Edina, told state agency officials during the hearing that she wants to work with them to fix the system.

“We will be critical with every single dollar you ask of us next session, for sure,” Franzen said. “But I want to be a partner to make sure that this is resolved, because complaining about it and pointing fingers is not going to really fix it.”

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