Weather Forecast


Capitol Chatter: MNLARS issues foreshadow future projects

Minnesota House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson of Hanska talks to Commissioner Johanna Clyborne of Minnesota Information Technology Services after a Tuesday, Feb. 27, 2018, meeting about long delays in issuing motor vehicle titles, registrations and license plates. Don Davis / Forum News Service1 / 2
Minnesota Information Technology Commissioner Johanna Clyborne tells a state House committee Thursday, March 1, 2018, that without an immediate infusion of $10 million, contractors working on a troublesome vehicle registration and license computer system will be let go. Don Davis / Forum News Service2 / 2

ST. PAUL—Minnesota state government's aging computer systems' problems could be a common issue unless the information technology agency steps up its game.

Legislators frequently bring up that prospect as they discuss the problem-filled Minnesota License and Registration System. Lawmakers from both parties say MNLARS is a disaster, with Republicans often also mentioning the ill-fated rollout of MNsure a few years back.

New Information Technologies Commissioner Johanna Clyborne told legislators examining MNLARS that she is looking ahead as her agency will need to roll out new software frequently in the years ahead.

"Modernization projects of this size and scope will be going on for many years," she said.

Clyborne, an appointee of Democratic Gov. Mark Dayton, has received very high marks from Republicans who control the Legislature since taking over the agency less than three weeks ago. GOP lawmakers and the commissioner agree the agency needs to shape up as computer systems reach the end of their lives.

House Transportation Chairman Paul Torkelson, R-Hanska, called MNLARS a "financial and technological catastrophe."

Torkelson blamed Dayton. "His administration missed the warning signs and we went live with a system that was just not ready."

IT officials say the MNLARS team did not do a good job communicating with people who rely on the system, such as deputy registrars and car dealers, when designing the system. There also are lots of reports that the agency known as MN.IT did a poor job of communicating with users since the system went live on July 24.

But communication was not the only problem.

One of Clyborne's key aides, Joan Redwing, said the MNLARS computer team originally did not test software thoroughly enough. For quite a while, when the software was upgraded with fixes, some of those fixes disappeared on the next update

Now, Redwing said, upgrades are extensively tested before being released.

Clyborne already has made personnel changes in her department.

Handgun permits down

Fewer people received handgun carry permits in 2017 than the previous year.

The Bureau of Criminal Apprehension announced sheriffs granted 55,089 permits last year, after receiving 58,219 applications. In 2016, 71,156 received permits were granted.

The number of permits issued has ranged from 41,493 upwards in the past five years.

There are 282,838 permit holders in the state.

The report also shows that 1,335 crimes were committed by permit holders in 2017, more than half by drunken driver suspects.

Technology woes

The House Transportation Committee was about to discuss technological problems with the MNLARS vehicle registration and licensing system when it experienced its own tech issues.

First, the public address system did not seem to be working. Once that problem was solved, no sound came from a video the committee watched.

The irony of a committee investigating a technological lapse having its own woes was not lost on many in the audience.

PB&J in DC

Governors on official trips to Washington, during trips that include White House meetings and gatherings with high-power members of Congress, must eat high-priced meals most of their constituents cannot afford. Right?

Maybe not for Minnesota's governor, born to a wealthy family with a father who taught him not to live high on the hog.

On his recent trip to the National Governors' Association conference in Washington, his last as governor, Mark Dayton attended a meeting with President Donald Trump and took in all those other things a governor does in the nation's capital.

However, he told Forum News Service, he often ate his favorite meal. "I had six peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. ... It is cheaper than room service."

Four years ago, Dayton admitted to the news service that he would eat PB&J for every meal if he could.

Card helps deaf

The state Department of Human Services can provide deaf Minnesotans with a card to help them deal with law enforcement officers.

"Minnesotans who are deaf and hard of hearing suggested this card, which we are confident can help to reduce significant communications barriers and also increase overall safety for both people with hearing loss and law enforcement," Human Services Assistant Commissioner Claire Wilson said.

The laminated document identifies the person as being deaf and provides information for the officer about how to best communicate with the person.

The card has graphics the officer can point to, indicating what information they need, what violation occurred and what will happen as a next step, such as a warning, ticket or arrest. Other graphics can be used by the deaf person to identify issues they need help with, such as a flat tire, being lost, having run out of gas or needing a tow.

People who want the traffic card may send an email to dhhs.metro//

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.