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Walz okays emergency funding for MNLARS, tweaks to public works projects

Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, March 5, 2019, signed into law his first two bills, which passed with bipartisan support. Walz said the measures' passage represented a successful "test" of lawmakers' ability to work together. Dana Ferguson / Forum News Service

ST. PAUL -- Gov. Tim Walz on Tuesday, March 5, signed into law his first two bills, an indication that Minnesota's divided Legislature could rack up some early wins, legislative leaders said.

The bills provide stopgap funding to help improve the state's troubled vehicle registration and licensing computer system and make tweaks to a set of public works projects aimed at resolving legal challenges. Both passed through the House of Representatives and Senate Monday night.

And the proposals required compromise.

The $13.3 million in one-time money for the Minnesota Licensing and Registration System, known as MNLARS, came up short of the nearly $16 million Walz had requested, and it didn't include funding to reimburse deputy registrars. Lawmakers vowed to take up reimbursements for the registrars separately, and on Tuesday advanced a bill that would authorize $10 million for them.

Lawmakers also asked the governor to launch an independent investigation of the system as part of the deal. The independent evaluation began last week, and results are expected in May.

Walz on Tuesday said the proposals represented a "test" among legislative leaders to prove they'd stay true to their word in legislative negotiations and be willing to compromise on issues they cared about. The signings come as the legislative session entered its third month.

“This is the hard work of governance,” Walz said at a news conference. “This is the stuff that impacts people’s tax dollars in a very significant manner, it impacts the experience they have with government and the expectations they have of government."

Leaders of Minnesota's split Legislature agreed that the agreements bode well for the rest of the legislative session and beyond.

“It shows that we can — as the only divided government in the United States — actually function in a way that’s good for Minnesota," Senate Majority Leader Paul Gazelka, R-Nisswa, said.

But agreements might be harder to come by as they set their plans for how to spend nearly $50 billion as part of the state's two-year budget. Leaders on Tuesday acknowledged that they would face some conflicts but committed to working to get a plan together in time to avoid a government shutdown.

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