Good morning, and congratulations for making it to Friday. Here’s the Digest.
1. Auditor’s report on MNLARS finds ‘many factors’ to blame but zeros in on two state departments. Leaders in the state’s public safety and information technology departments didn’t provide enough oversight for MNLARS, the state’s troubled vehicle registration and licensing system, leading to its early failure, the Minnesota legislative auditor said Thursday. Problems began almost right from the start when agency officials picked a private vendor, Hewlett-Packard, to build the system, according to the long-awaited auditor’s report. Despite a detailed contract with Hewlett-Packard, the work was “unsatisfactory,” and by the time the agencies killed the contract in 2014, “they had little to show for several years of work,” according to the auditor. Ultimately, after more than $100 million spent and nine years leading to the 2017 release, “many factors, rather than a single person or a single decision,” crippled the system’s release and “agency leadership did not take sufficient steps to ensure that this large and risky project would succeed,” the report said. The Minnesota Licensing and Registration System was rolled out in July 2017, replacing a 30-year-old system. There were immediate problems, including delays in the processing of license and title transactions. MNLARS is now in its third governor’s administration. Minnesota IT Services and the Department of Public Safety, have made many improvements since the botched release and continue to seek additional funding for ongoing repairs. Sen. Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the chair of the Senate transportation committee, said some critical decisions might be coming on the future MNLARS. “Those are really the two ultimate options, is to continue to spend money on it and continue to have MNIT and DPS do the work, or do we just say enough is enough, scrap it and start over. That is a really difficult decision.” (MPR News)
2. Gun control supporters mark one-year anniversary of Parkland killings. Advocates calling for stricter firearms laws marked Thursday’s anniversary of the Parkland, Fla., high school shooting by reading off the names of Minnesotans killed by gun violence, an issue Gov. Tim Walz said would be also be addressed in his upcoming budget proposal. The ceremony came amid a renewed push to expand background checks for gun sales and introduce a “red flag” law that would let relatives or law enforcement to petition judges to take firearms away from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. “These are not extreme or experimental measures,” said the Rev. Nancy Nord Bence, executive director of the nonprofit Protect Minnesota, which organized Thursday’s rally. Bence highlighted the bipartisan support for legislation to address distracted driving and opioid abuse this session, while highlighting that more Minnesotans died from gun violence than from car crashes or overdoses last year: “We will not get all the names read in two hours even if we read straight through.” Any new gun restrictions face formidable opposition at the Capitol. Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, recently told supporters of the Minnesota Gun Owners Caucus that he would work to prevent any new gun laws from passing this session, and Republicans gained another seat to create a 35-32 advantage upon Jason Rarick’s SD-11 special election victory this month. (Star Tribune)
3. Omar’s allies still reacting to her week in the news. Even with her apology for a tweet that many saw as anti-Semitic, it’s made for uncomfortable conversations among U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar’s Democratic allies in her district. “She’s establishing herself as a firebrand. Do I think she is going to have another Twitter dustup? Yes. Will it be about anti-Semitism? I have no idea,” said Carin Mrotz, executive director of Jewish Community Action. “I don’t think her tweets are evidence that she is an anti-Semite, her tweets are an example that anti-Semitism is so ingrained in our society and culture that we don’t even realize it,” Mrotz added. “I will say to her credit is she has displayed a willingness to learn and grow and change. Others felt her celebrity and inexperience in politics — Omar served just one term in the state House before moving to Congress — collided in the tweet. “There’s a learning opportunity in here for her to talk with members of the Jewish community in her district,” said Darin Broton, a DFL consultant and strategist with the Tunheim public affairs firm. But he was turned off when he saw a fundraising email from Omar this week — titled “We Won’t Be Silenced” — after Trump asked her to resign. “It didn’t matter if the tweet came from the president or if the tweet came from someone else, we shouldn’t be fundraising off of something that was insensitive,” he said. (MPR News)
4. New corrections chief confronts mental health issue in prisons. Paul Schnell may have spent his career in law enforcement, but he knows mental health. It’s a background that will be useful in his new job as corrections commissioner, a post he was appointed to last month by Gov. Tim Walz. Schnell’s degree is in social work, and that expertise has informed his work since. During one of his three stints as a police chief, he sent everybody on the force to a therapy session, just to make clear that it was okay. And he’s talked about hiring social workers instead of more cops because even though police often get called to deal with mental health issues, that’s not what they’re trained in. The Minnesota Department of Corrections has the same problem, he said. “Frankly we deal with such an array of need that it’s really hard for law enforcement — even corrections — to deal with the range of need,” Schnell said. “How do we find that right resource at the right time for the right reason?” (MPR News)
5. Walleye rules to change on Mille Lacs. Anglers on Lake Mille Lacs will be able to keep some walleye during this year’s open-water fishing season — a significant change after several seasons of a catch-and-release-only policy that frustrated anglers and local resorts around the iconic central Minnesota lake. The Department of Natural Resources announced the change Thursday but didn’t provide details, saying it will announce Mille Lacs walleye regulations in mid-March for the season that starts May 11. “With some very conservative fishing regulations over the past three years, walleye are now at a level where we can cautiously allow anglers to start keeping some fish during the open-water season,” DNR Commissioner Sarah Strommen said in a statement. “The upward trend of the walleye population reflects the conservation efforts of both the state of Minnesota and the Ojibwe tribes with harvest rights in Mille Lacs Lake,” added Mille Lacs Band DNR Commissioner Bradley Harrington. (MPR News)