Daily Digest: Key lawmaker delivers MNLARS ultimatum

Good morning, and happy Wednesday. State fiance officials release an updated budget forecast later today and just about everyone is expecting it to show the state in the black.  We’ll cover it through the day, but for now here’s the Digest.

1. Standoff looming over license and registration system woes. After months of problems with the system known as MNLARS, Republican state Rep. Paul Torkelson said Tuesday that he won’t give a blank check to DFL Gov. Mark Dayton’s administration. Instead, he’s proposing a $10 million allocation that would require the administration to cut an equal amount from executive branch budgets. The cost of developing MNLARS has already topped $90 million. The administration missed the warning signs and launched the system before it was ready, said Torkelson, who’s questioning why state agencies want another $43 million to fix the problems. “Simply put this has been a financial and technological catastrophe,” he said. “Minnesotans need a functional DMV system, but we can’t simply keep throwing money at the problem and putting taxpayers on the hook for the missteps that have occurred along the way.” Officials from the two state agencies in charge of MNLARS, Minnesota IT Services and the Department of Public Safety, say they need $10 million this week or they’ll need to send layoff notices to staff and outside vendors working on the project. (MPR News)

2. Dayton outlines school safety approach. Gov. Mark Dayton said Tuesday he’ll outline a school safety proposal next week that will include financial support for school districts to shore up building security and to extend mental health help quickly to expelled students. Dayton spent the past several days in Washington where the recent Florida high school shootings were a major topic of discussion among federal leaders and the nation’s governors. The DFL governor met with key members of his cabinet and top lawmakers Tuesday to start discussing ideas, from gun proposals to intervening with troubled students. While he wants Congress to act to prevent similar tragedies, Dayton said states must also do their part. “I think Minnesotans — I think people across the country — are saying you may not be able to do everything. But you’ve got to do some things that are going to make a real difference,” Dayton told reporters. (MPR News)

3. High school graduation rate barely budges. Minnesota’s four-year high school graduation rate barely moved last year to land at 82.7 percent, according to data out today from the Minnesota Department of Education. The 2017 statewide high school graduation rate is .2 percentage points higher than the 2016 rate. “I am so proud of the work our teachers, administrators and communities have done to increase the number of Minnesota students graduating,” state Education Commissioner Brenda Cassellius said in a statement. Graduation rates improved for almost all racial groups of students, with black students seeing a very slight decrease. However, large gaps remain between students of color and their white peers. While 88 percent of white students received a diploma in four years, just 65 percent of black students and 51 percent of American Indian and Alaskan Native students did. The modest improvement again falls short of gains needed to meet state goals. (MPR News)

4. Minneapolis residents lose lawsuit against Southwest LRT. A federal judge on Tuesday has ruled in favor of the Metropolitan Council in a long-standing lawsuit filed by Minneapolis residents seeking to block the $1.9 billion Southwest light-rail project. The Lakes and Parks Alliance (LPA), a local nonprofit group, filed suit in U.S. District Court in Minneapolis against the regional planning body in September 2014. The suit claimed the council violated federal law when it chose the current LRT route above all others before an environmental study was completed. The 14.5-mile line is slated run between downtown Minneapolis and Eden Prairie, beginning service in 2023. Its 1.5-mile jog through the Kenilworth corridor, a popular area for bicyclists and pedestrians in Minneapolis’ Chain of Lakes area, spurred neighbors to file suit. In a 17-page opinion, Judge John Tunheim found the council “did not irreversibly commit itself to a single alternative” route. “Federal law governs procedures, not results,” he wrote. (Star Tribune)

5. Supreme Court hears Minnesota case. In the late 1800s, states began enacting laws to protect voters from harassment and intimidation. Soon, all 50 states had laws that banned electioneering outside polling places and eventually, most states adopted even stricter laws inside polling places. Among the strictest is a Minnesota law that bars voters from wearing apparel or buttons that bear a “political” message. In 2010 Andy Celik challenged the Minnesota law. He went to vote wearing a t-shirt that said ‘Tea Party Patriots, Don’t Tread on Me.” “I simply asked for a ballot, and they refused me twice,” he said. “The only explanation they gave me is that the shirt was political.” The third time, he came back with his lawyer and was allowed to vote, but his name and address were taken down, because the law provides for up to a $300 fine for violating the ban on political apparel. According to the state, the fine has never been levied, and was not in this case. But Celik and the Minnesota Voters Alliance sued, claiming that his constitutional free-speech rights had been violated. (NPR)

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