Daily Digest: Private MNLARS fix? It’ll cost you

Good morning, and happy Thursday. Here’s the Digest.

1. Private MNLARS fix might not save money. Three technology companies are interested in taking over Minnesota’s troubled vehicle licensing system, but preliminary estimates show the move to an outside vendor would not be cheap. Three firms–Business Information System (BIS), Celtic Systems and FAST Enterprises — submitted preliminary proposals for replacing MNLARS. A Department of Public Safety report to the Legislature on the three responses shows that turning MNLARS over to private contractors would significantly boost a price tag that is already topping $100 million after a decade of work.  BIS estimated an annual price tag of $4.55 million. That’s the same amount the company receives each year from the state of Tennessee under a contract that pays it 70 cents per transaction. Celtic Systems estimated the Minnesota project would take up to three years at a cost of up to $30 million, along with annual maintenance and support of up to $2 million. The estimate from FAST Enterprises, was up to $38 million up front and up to $5.5 million a year for maintenance. It would take 18 months to complete.  (MPR News)

2. Republicans blame Iowa killing on Democrats, weak immigration laws. Some Minnesota politicians Wednesday used  the killing of Iowa college student Mollie Tibbetts to call for a crackdown on illegal immigration, although the attorney of the suspect in the case took issue with the prosecution’s claims about his client’s immigration status. Second District Republican Congressman Jason Lewis tweeted that Tibbetts’ death is an “outrage that demands action” at the border. Republican State Sen. Karin Housley, who’s running against DFL U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, called the crime a “preventable tragedy,” and blamed “liberal Democrats and open border advocates.” ‘I’m not politicizing it,” Housley said in an interview with MPR News. “I’m just pointing it out that we have a real issue with our immigration system here in the United States.” The Republican candidate for Minnesota attorney general, Doug Wardlow, also used the case to bring up the immigration issue and to criticize his DFL opponent. In a court document filed Wednesday, defense attorney Allan M. Richards stated that an employer has said his client has legal permission to be in the U.S. (MPR News)

3. Poll shows health care and economy are top issues. Health care and the economy are the key issues for Minnesota midterm voters, and Sen. Tina Smith is better known than her Republican opponent, Karin Housley, according to an exclusive Suffolk University/St. Cloud Times poll.  When asked who they would vote for if the election were held today 44 percent of respondents supported Smith and 37 percent picked Housley, with 18 percent undecided. In the governor’s race Democrat Tim Walz had 46 percent to Republican Jeff Johnson’s 41 percent, with 12 percent undecided. The poll showed Sen. Amy Klobuchar with a 20 point lead over her Republican opponent Jim Newberger, 54-34.  On President Donald Trump, 55 percent an unfavorable view compared to 38 percent who had a favorable opinion.  Forty-seven percent said they want their November vote “to change the direction President Trump is leading the nation,” and 32 percent want to continue in the direction Trump’s leading. About 18 percent said their November votes don’t have much to do with Trump and Trump’s policies. (St. Cloud Times)  Here are the full results.

4. Attorney calls for Pennsylvania-style abuse investigation. Jeff Anderson, who has sued the Catholic church multiple times over clergy sex abuse, is calling for a grand jury to investigate all of the dioceses in Minnesota. In Pennsylvania, a two-year investigation by a grand jury identified more than 300 priests credibly accused of abuse and found that there were more than 1,000 victims of priest abuse. Anderson wants Gov. Mark Dayton to convene a grand jury to investigate, interview and possibly bring charges against priests who abused children or church leaders who helped to cover up those crimes or move known offenders to other churches or parishes. In an emailed statement, Caroline Burns, press secretary for Gov. Mark Dayton wrote, “The Governor has not received such a request before. Therefore, his office is first researching for any precedents and then analyzing the statutory authority on this matter. We will respond as soon as those reviews are completed.” There is some disagreement about whether Minnesota law would permit the governor or any other official to take the step. (MPR News)

5. Appeals court rules against challenge to fetal tissue research. Anti-abortion advocates lost an appeal Wednesday in an attempt to restrict when the University of Minnesota can use aborted fetal tissue for medical research. The state Court of Appeals said the lawsuit filed in 2016 by Pro-Life Action Ministries is moot because the Legislature clarified the law while the case was pending, specifically allowing research on aborted fetal tissue. The lawsuit had argued that the U was in violation of a 32-year-old law regarding disposal of fetal remains from abortions. Under that law, the use was restricted to tests necessary for the health of a woman, her future children or a criminal investigation. The court, however, pointed to the 2017 law specifically allows fetal tissue research with approval from the Fetal Tissue Research Committee, a university oversight panel. The court rejected the anti-abortion group’s argument that the fetal tissue testing be deemed “necessary.” Instead, the court cited the law requires the research be “designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge.” (Star Tribune)

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