Senate votes to reimburse licensing offices for MNLARS

The Minnesota Senate voted Thursday to carve out $13 million to provide private and municipal licensing bureaus money to recover from a state technology debacle.

The deputy registrar reimbursements stem from the errors, delays and other headaches since the 2017 launch of a licensing system known as MNLARS. It has affected driver’s licenses, vehicle tabs and other transactions.

Sen. John Jasinski, R-Faribault, said the private licensing offices lost business and racked up overtime costs due to programming flaws.

“The deputy registrars were hurt the most,” Jasinski said. “This is their core business. Other ones like auto dealers can still sell cars, although they’ve had issues. Towing companies can still tow cars, although they’ve had issues. Everybody else can do their business.”

The vote was 60-6.

Sen. Karla Bigham, DFL-Cottage Grove, said counties that operate licensing offices will also benefit, saving them from having to go to local taxpayers to pick up the tab.

“This is a good start,” she said. “It helps.”

The bill differs from one in the House, meaning negotiations are ahead before the grants go out. DFL Gov. Tim Walz has been supportive of compensation.

Awards would be based on a formula tied to volume of transactions at the business. Under the Senate-approved bill, registrars would not have to supply documentation of their financial hit to qualify for their grants.

“We believe, I believe, and I think most of my counterparts agree, they’ve been through enough,” Jasinski said, who added that would come off as an audit rather than an apology from the state. “This is the simplest method to get money back to our deputy registrars before they have to shut the doors.”

The House bill asks for “credible evidence of total increased costs and foregone revenue” before money from the $10 million fund in its proposal is released.

In both bills, registrars must sign a release agreeing not to file lawsuits over the problems.

Increased licensing fees for people seeking driver’s licenses or vehicle registrations are possible to generate money to pay for other MNLARS fallout.

Sen. Scott Newman, chair of the transportation committee, said there are “significant” requests pending for continuing technology upgrades and fixes.

“This is far from over,” said Newman, R-Hutchinson.

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