By Theo Keith

Published March 4, 2022 4:49PM
Updated 6:36PM
St. Paul

Minnesota lawmakers are envisioning a day when you have a mobile version of your driver's license on your smartphone, in addition to looking at proposals to make licenses valid for longer.

Minnesota lawmakers are envisioning a day when you have a mobile version of your driver's license on your smartphone.

State Sen. Karin Housley, R-Stillwater, said she got the idea when she lost her driver's license at a University of Minnesota hockey game last fall, requiring her to get a replacement. Housley's bill would not make the shift right away, nor would it do away with physical licenses. 

Instead, it requires state officials to outline by Dec. 15 how a transition would happen.

"We have so many things on our phones right now. We have our plane tickets, we have our credit cards, Apple Pay," Housley told the Senate Transportation Committee during a Thursday hearing. "I think it makes sense that we get up to this century and look at getting mobile driver's licenses."

The measure is one of several changes being proposed to modernize Minnesota's Driver and Vehicle Services agency. Under a series of changes recommended by an outside evaluator, Minnesotans would keep their licenses for twice as long but pay more for it, and many transactions would shift online.

Several states already allow people to use a mobile version of their driver's license as a valid form of identification, and others are considering it. Apple has said it will introduce the feature on new versions of its iPhone.

Minnesota should also look at electronic versions of vehicle titles and mobile facial software for driver's license photos, Housley said. The measure passed the Transportation committee without opposition and heads to another Senate panel.

"I think the time has come to look at this," state Sen. Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, said before the vote. "I think it's a good innovation."

Longer renewal period, fewer exam stations

The Senate is moving forward with separate measures to address recommendations by Rick King, a former Thomson Reuters executive, whom the Legislature tasked in 2021 with studying ways to overhaul Minnesota's often-criticized Driver and Vehicle Services.

Under one proposal, Minnesotans would keep the driver's licenses for eight years instead of four. Fourteen states have eight-year renewal terms, while Minnesota has one of the shortest, King's report found.

"We think it's a good idea to look at the lengthening of that," King told senators at Thursday's hearing.

Under another proposal, Minnesota would eliminate knowledge tests for people who move here from other states that require comparable exams.

Many transactions would shift online, and Minnesota would close as many as 53 of its 93 exam stations.

Revenue sharing for deputy registrars

Driver's license fees would go up by $3 for renewals and $8 for new applications. The state would share a portion of the online revenue with deputy registrars who handle in-person transactions. The deputy registrars have been hurt financially in recent years by the shift to online services and Minnesota's botched 2017 rollout of the MNLARS system.

"We are at a breaking point right now," said Todd Hill, who represents Minnesota's private deputy registrars. "If we do not pass this bill and fix this today, we are going to see fewer and fewer deputy registrars in the community."

Minnesota DVS Director Pong Xiong raised concerns with the revenue sharing and said he expected the state to suffer a multi-million dollar loss in fee revenue. Senators said the revenue-sharing proposal was not final.

A separate bill would require Minnesota agencies to consider moving boat, snowmobile, and all-terrain vehicle registrations to Driver and Vehicle Services. The Department of Natural Resources currently does that work.