Daily Digest: Lawmakers turn up MNLARS heat

Good morning, and welcome to Wednesday. Here’s the Digest.

1. More gripes, more money for MNLARS. State lawmakers blasted a state agency leader Tuesday for not telling them about a report that blamed a former Minnesota IT Services executive for the problems in rolling out a new vehicle licensing system.The report was the focus of a hearing held jointly by two Minnesota House committees. It focused on the performance of Paul Meekin, who held the title of chief business technology officer, blaming him for failing to address known defects prior to the MNLARS launch last summer. Meekin himself made a surprise appearance at the hearing. (MPR News) Meanwhile, the state’s Driver and Vehicle Services office plans to spend $1.3 million to temporarily add staff to answer calls and e-mails, many of which stem from the problematic rollout of MNLARS. (Star Tribune)

2. Dayton rips proposed buffer fines. Gov. Mark Dayton is asking the state’s Board of Water and Soil Resources to withdraw a proposal that could significantly increase fines for landowners who don’t comply with the state’s buffer law. Penalties laid out in the current buffer rules allow a financial penalty ranging from $200 to $500 for each parcel of land where there is a waterway out of compliance with the law. The proposed amendment that was released for public review last week would allow a penalty of $200 to $500 per linear foot of waterway. Dayton told water and soil board members Monday that he was “surprised and disturbed” to learn the board had put the penalty plan out for public comment. “The proposed fines are unreasonable,” he wrote in a letter. “They have come as a shock to not only myself, but also to Minnesota farmers.” The penalty plan had already drawn condemnation from farm groups and Republican lawmakers. “The proposed penalties are quite severe, beyond excessive in fact for non-compliance,” said Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Kirby Hettver. “So that’s really the red flag that caught our attention.” (MPR News)

3. Another lawsuit over the lieutenant governor’s job. A constituent of state Sen. Michelle Fischbach sued Tuesday for a second time in an attempt to remove the legislator from office because she also holds the title lieutenant governor. Destiny Dusosky of Sauk Rapids failed in an earlier attempt to have Fischbach removed. The Senate is controlled 34-33 by Republicans and court-ordered removal of Fischbach would force a special election in her district. Fischbach, of Paynesville, involuntarily become lieutenant governor in January when Tina Smith was named a U.S. Senator upon Al Franken’s resignation. The lieutenant governor sits on various commissions and boards, but Fischbach has steered clear of those and has refused a paycheck. (MPR News)

4. Lawmakers aim to close racial inequities in child protection system. Black children in Minnesota are three times more likely to become involved with child protection and be removed from their homes than white children. A group of state lawmakers say those disparities are caused by widespread inequity across Minnesota’s child protection system that includes how initial allegations are reviewed, how parents are screened and assessed and how incidents are resolved. To combat these inequities, Rep. Rena Moran, DFL-St. Paul, and Sen. Jeff Hayden, DFL-Minneapolis, are proposing the Minnesota African American Family Preservation Act to improve oversight of child protection systems and provide better outcomes for black children and families who go through the system. “Racial disparities in the child welfare system must be viewed as a call to action from all of us, regardless of race,” Moran said at a Tuesday news conference. (Pioneer Press)

5. Judge tapped for U.S. Attorney. President Trump has nominated a Dakota County district judge who previously served as assistant United States Attorney for the Minnesota district to be Minnesota’s top federal prosecutor. The White House nominated Erica MacDonald on Tuesday to be the next U.S. attorney for Minnesota, a position that has been vacant since March 2017, when Andrew Luger, an Obama administration holdover, was forced to step down after Trump took office. MacDonald’s appointment was part of the latest wave of nominations for U.S. attorneys and federal judges across the country. MacDonald was appointed a Dakota County judge in 2010 by then-Gov. Tim Pawlenty. She was re-elected in 2012. Before her appointment, she worked as assistant U.S. attorney for Minnesota from 2001 to 2009, prosecuting cases involving violent crimes, narcotics, firearms, human trafficking, and child pornography. Minnesota DFL U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar applauded MacDonald’s selection. (MPR News)

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