Senate Approves About $9.65 Million for MNLARS Fix
On a 47-20 vote, the Minnesota Senate approved a bill providing an additional $9.65 million dollars to fix the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS). Sponsored by Senate Transportation Chair Scott Newman, R-Hutchinson, the measure also creates oversight mechanisms to ensure that improvement benchmarks are being met.
Specifically, the bill redirects funds available for driver and vehicle services to fund IT improvements within MNLARS. The Legislative Auditor would be required to issue quarterly reports on the progress, and the legislature would be able to end funding for IT improvements should benchmarks not be met.
Aligning the Tax Structure, Addressing Special Education
Since the passage of the new federal tax law, the state legislature is now tasked with determining how much and in what ways to align Minnesota's tax code with the federal tax code. Capitol Report moderator Shannon Loehrke, talks with Senator Roger Chamberlain, chair of the Senate Tax Committee, and Senator Ann Rest, DFL lead on the committee, about the objectives and priorities of aligning Minnesota's tax structure with the federal changes.
Education officials often talk about large special education cross-subsidies which essentially means that there are budget shortfalls in special education funding. Schools continue to look for ways to bridge that gap, and Senator Eric Pratt, chair of the E-12 Education Policy Committee, talks with Shannon about tackling the problem.
Unveiling the Elder Care and Vulnerable Adult Protection Act
Senate Karin Housley, chair of the Senate Aging and Long Term Care Committee, unveiled a series of measures Thursday, March 15, designed to improve care of Minnesota's elderly population and vulnerable adults. The package of proposals stem from recent media reports exposing a series of abuse allegations that have failed to be investigated.
To assist families in the monitoring of vulnerable adults, the bill would allow cameras to be installed in rooms. Also, the Home Care Bill of Rights, which applies to licensed home care providers, would be expanded to include adults who live in assisted living facilities. Furthermore, the Department of Health could impose immediate fines when violations against those rights occur.
To improve the handling of complaints, the bill would require the Office of Health Facilities Complaints to implement a new electronic case management system that includes the publishing of all substantiated claims on their website.
Furthermore, the bill attempts to improve the oversight and accountability of the Office of health Facility Complaints and requires the agency to communicate their investigation findings to family members.
Committee Prepares School Safety Proposals
The Senate E-12 Education Policy Committee considered several bills Tuesday, March 13, designed to improve safety at Minnesota's public schools. The proposals will be considered as part of an omnibus committee bill in the coming weeks.
The first bill before the committee, SF 3068, sponsored by Senator Carrie Ruud, R-Breezy Point, would establish a grant program to cover the costs incurred by school districts conducting safety audits of their schools. The schools could receive full reimbursement of their audit costs.
The second bill, SF1626, sponsored by Senator Patricia Torres Ray, DFL-Minneapolis, would prohibit revenue from the school safety levy from being used for public safety transportation costs, firearms, tactical gear and communications equipment. Senator Torres Ray said the expense of the proposed exemptions should be resolved between schools and local governments.
Two school safety bills are sponsored by committee chair Eric Pratt, R-Prior Lake. One of his bills, SF 3243, would allow school districts to use long-term facilities maintenance revenue for improving school facilities to increase safety. The second bill, SF 2900, allows schools to change their emergency drill procedures by not forcing the institutions to fully empty the building every time an alarm sounds. Senator Pratt explained that a full evacuation was exploited by the perpetrator at Parkland High School in Florida.
Several school safety measures are expected to be approved prior to the adjournment of the 2018 legislative session.
Creating a School Rating System
A bill designed to provide parents a tool to review the performance of Minnesota schools came before the Senate E-12 Education Policy Committee Tuesday, March 13. Sponsored by Senator Roger Chamberlain, R-Lino Lakes, the bill directs the Department of Education to assign a star rating and an academic achievement rating to schools and school districts. The ratings would be based on several factors, including student performance on reading and math tests, graduation rates and student of color performance.
Senator Chamberlain said the rating system would be using data already collected. "We all need information, and for many parents...one of the most important decisions for them is where their kids go to school."
Several testifiers in support of the bill said the proposed system would be a more unified, better approach than the current system, which provides information on a variety of standards but is challenging to navigate.
Speaking in support of the legislation, Daniel Sellers of EdAllies said by offering centralized data, "I do hope will allow parents to engage in the data in a different and more complete way."
Senator Susan Kent, DFL-Woodbury, expressed concern over the proposed approach. "I think we are creating a system that gives a false sense of confidence in the information that the parents are being given, and that will ultimately limit their ability," she said.
Bill Providing Funds to Fix MNLARS Advances to Full Senate
The Senate Finance Committee approved a proposal Tuesday, March 13, that provides $7.3 million in support to improve the state's Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, referred to as MNLARS.
As part of the legislative package, the plan includes legislative oversight for the continued software development that drives MNLARS and has left the public and license administrators frustrated. The bill would require the Department of Public Safety and Minnesota IT Services, MN.IT, to submit benchmarks to achieve a fully functional system. The bill further requires the IT agency to seek approval of funds from the oversight committee every 90 days.
To date, the state has spent about $93 million dollars on updating the MNLARS computer system, and the administration requested about $40 million dollars to maintain contractors working on the computer fix.
Johanna Clyborne, the newly-appointed Commissioner of MN.IT, expressed concerns with the bill. "The problem that I have with this bill is that I believe it binds me in such a way that does not allow me to make accurate progress." The bill, she said, would create a constant state of budget uncertainty, which would impact the agencies' ability to contract help in resolving the MNLARS software issue because of the approval oversight by the advisory committee.
The bill is expected to be debated on the Senate Floor on Thursday.
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