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MNLARS one of many bills lawmakers tackle near deadline

Work under the Minnesota Capitol dome has increased in recent days as deadlines approach for the 2018 edition of the Minnesota Legislature. Don Davis / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL — Gov. Mark Dayton seldom says he would veto a bill, but if it reaches his desk he promises to veto House-passed legislation to get the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System running smoothly.

The measure representatives passed late Monday afternoon would take money from other agencies to fix the Public Safety Department program. Dayton said on Tuesday, March 20, that he refuses to let lawmakers "cannibalize" other departments' budgets to fix MNLARS.

However, he said he can support a Senate bill that takes nearly $10 million from other Public Safety accounts.

But while Dayton was threatening a veto, Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said he thinks a House-Senate compromise that Dayton will sign can be reached by Thursday.

Dayton said he talked about the issue over breakfast with legislative leaders Tuesday, but the five did not reach an agreement about what should be done.

"It should have been resolved a month ago," Dayton said.

If no acceptable bills reaches his desk soon, he said, the issue will be left for the next governor, who takes office early in 2019. "It is time now to either put up or go on. ... I will conclude that they do not want to solve it and carry it forward into the election."

MNLARS's problems began in the summer, when a new software system replaced a 30-year-old computer that no longer could be serviced. However, as soon as MNLARS launched, Minnesotans faced long delays or the inability to conduct motor vehicle business dealing with titles, registrations and licenses.

As MNLARS discussions go on, legislators this week face decisions on hundreds of issues. A Thursday deadline looms for committees to pass policy legislation in the chamber where the bills originated. Next week is the deadline to pass bills that originate in the other body.

The deadline has packed committee agendas. Some of the issues that have come up recently include:

• Minnesotans found guilty for driving a car while drunk could not drive snowmobiles or all-terrain vehicles under legislation moving through committees. It was spurred by the death of an 8-year-old on Chisago Lake boy in January, who was struck by a snowmobile driven by a man whose driver's license had been revoked three times because of drunken driving convictions. The House bill's sponsor, Rep. Anne Neu, R-North Branch, said her measure would revoke driving privileges for an ATV or snowmobile for one year for someone convicted of drunken driving in any tyhpe of vehicle.

• A Republican-controlled House committee Tuesday rejected a Democratic lawmaker's second effort to get two gun bills heard. The public safety committee voted against discussing bills by Rep. Dave Pinto, D-St. Paul, to require background checks on everyone buying guns and to keep people who are considered "extreme risk" from having guns. Gazelka echoed the opinion of other GOP leaders when he said in an interview that school safety issues likely will pass this year, but not gun-control legislation.

• Dayton said he supports students who were in the Capitol Monday supporting gun-control bills, but not their interruption of a Senate committee. "They have a right to be alarmed," Dayton said of students arguing for gun law changes.

• A Senate committee Tuesday followed a House committee in supporting elimination of a state standard about how much sulfate can be in water. The rule, on the books since 1973 but not enforced, was enacted to protect wild rice. Backers of the bill say there is no scientific proof the standard is valid. Sen. David Tomassoni, D-Chisholm said the state should not risk "all kinds of jobs" at taconite mines with a standard "that we have no idea what it will do."

• Gazelka said Republicans support a tax bill this year to make Minnesota tax law similar to new federal law. However, he said, it will not be the same as Dayton's bill, which Gazelka said raises businesses' taxes $1.4 billion over what they now pay. Conforming with federal law would help simplify income tax filing for Minnesotans, the Senate majority leader said, but the GOP will oppose any tax increases.

• Taxpayers would pay $1.6 million for public radio and television stations to produce programs about opioid dangers under a bill by Rep. Dave Baker, R-Willmar. Tax funds also would pay $20 million for other opioid prevention and treatment services. However, Baker amended his bill to remove funding from taxing drug makers about a penny for every opioid pill they sell in Minnesota. While Dayton supported the concept as a way to pay for state opioid abuse expenses, Republicans oppose tax increases.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.