AUGUSTA — The Maine House fell short of the necessary votes Tuesday to override Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill that would have paid for passport cards for veterans who lost access to a New Hampshire health clinic earlier this year.

The 89-54 vote was short of the two-thirds majority needed to override LePage’s veto of a bill that supporters described as a temporary but quick fix to problems created by Maine’s noncompliance with federal Real ID rules. Instead, LePage is pushing the Legislature to pass a broader bill that would direct the Secretary of State to issue new driver’s licenses that meet the tougher federal security standards required under Real ID.

Starting in February, Maine driver’s licenses are no longer accepted for entry at some federal buildings and military bases. As a result, roughly 500 Maine veterans have been unable to use their driver’s licenses to get through security at Pease Air National Guard Base in New Hampshire to receive care at a Department of Veterans Affairs health clinic.

The bill, L.D. 213, would have provided $15,000 to the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management to pay for passport cards for low-income veterans who use the New Hampshire clinic. Bill sponsor Rep. Jared Golden, D-Lewiston, said veterans have received conflicting information about accessing the clinic and that any excess money would have been mandated for use to help veterans in financial hardship.

“If we override this veto, it is 100 percent assured that this new law will help veterans that are in need of our help,” said Golden, a Marine Corps veteran who serves as assistant majority leader in the Maine House.

The bill passed the Maine House on a 110-8 vote and the Maine Senate 35-0 last week. But Tuesday, the vast majority of House Republicans voted to uphold LePage’s veto after Maine National Guard Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham told lawmakers he supported the governor’s stand. Farnham serves as commissioner of the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management.

Rep. Kenneth Fredette, a Newport Republican who is a major in the Maine Air National Guard, said he was voting to support the veto because the Legislature needs to fix the overarching problem of the state’s noncompliance with Real ID. Fredette had voted in support of Golden’s bill during the March 14 House vote.

“I think at the end of the day, what we need to do is focus on what the real issue is, which is Real ID,” Fredette said. Addressing that problem, Fredette said, “will solve lots of issues for lots of different people.”

That comment prompted a response from Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery: “The real issue is I have neighbors who can’t see their doctors. That is the real issue.”

In his veto message, LePage said the bill would only fix part of the problem related to the federal Real ID mandate and would be difficult for the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management to administer. Instead, he urged lawmakers to pass another bill now working its way through the legislative process, L.D. 306, that would end Maine’s official opposition to incorporating Real ID’s enhanced security features into state driver’s licenses.

“Though I agree with the sentiment to help veterans seeking medical care, we cannot forget all of the other groups that have experienced problems due to Real ID,” LePage wrote. “I respectfully urge the Legislature to not provide case-by-case carve-outs for groups being affected by Real ID.”

Lawmakers are under pressure to act this session to address the Real ID issue because beginning in January 2018, Maine residents will no longer be able to use state driver’s licenses to pass through airport security.

Maine is one of a handful of states that have refused to comply with the Real ID law and not received extended waivers from the federal government. Federal officials insist that the additional requirements – including digitized images of the card holder as well as federal access to a database of birth certificates and photographs – are necessary to help thwart terrorism.

Federal officials have reportedly assured the state that the January 2018 deadline will be extended if the Legislature passes a bill adopting the Real ID requirements.

But Real ID faces strong opposition from some civil liberties groups who believe the requirements infringe on residents’ privacy rights and fear the government could misuse the data. Secretary of State Matt Dunlap also opposes Real ID on privacy grounds and has predicted that complying with it is likely to cost the state $2 million to $3 million.

Afterward, Golden accused his Republican colleagues of rejecting a “win-win” situation that would have helped veterans for little cost.

“This was a sad vote that shows how partisanship gets in the way of our work even after a bill receives near unanimous support,” Golden said in a statement. “House Republicans flipped their votes, refusing to override the governor’s veto despite voting for the exact same bill on the floor last week. Mainers should be embarrassed that this veto was sustained.”

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

[email protected]

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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