State lawmakers expressed optimism Monday that a massive overhaul of Minnesota's troubled vehicle licensing and registration computer system is off to good start.
"This is a new beginning," said DFL Rep. Frank Hornstein, co-chair of a legislative oversight committee created to monitor the project. "I think we are turning a page and hopefully the problems we had for over a decade are behind us."
Lawmakers and state officials agreed earlier this year to scrap the current Minnesota Licensing and Registration System (MNLARS) and spend $34 million to create a new system in its place. On Monday, members of the new joint legislative panel, known as the Driver and Vehicle Systems Oversight Committee, got their first official update on that work.
Officials testifying at Monday's hearing said the project remains on schedule to meet the target rollout dates for the two-phase switch to a new Vehicle Title and Registration System (VTRS). MNLARS remains stable, thanks to a successful recent technological fix, and the current wait time for processing registration requests is down to "within 30 days," according to Department of Public Safety Deputy Commissioner Cassandra O'Hern.
Republican Sen. Scott Newman, co-chair of the oversight committee, said that marks a big improvement from earlier backlogs. Newman said that while the overhaul remains in its early stages, he's pleased with the updates and level of transparency in the process so far.
"The information I have received I think is positive," he said. "I think we have turned the corner. I think we are making progress."
Lawmakers and state agency officials credited a good working relationship with Fast Enterprises, the private vendor hired to build a new system, for the smooth transition so far. The Colorado-based business, used by 11 other states, had previously helped the state manage the switch to issuing enhanced driver's licenses designed to meet new federal security criteria.
MNLARS, which launched in 2017, was beset with technical difficulties and delays. The state spent more than $100 million on the system before deciding to abandon it and build VTRS instead.
The complete transition to VTRS, which includes a decommissioning of the current system, will occur over the next two years. Lawmakers said Monday that they hope the final product will result in shorter waits for motorists going in for service, fewer mistakes in calculating fees and quicker turnarounds for receiving driving-related documents in the mail.
"The service is going to become steadily better," Newman said. "I think this is good news for Minnesota."