AUGUSTA, Maine — Gov. Paul LePage on Thursday vetoed a bill that aims to help Maine veterans thwarted by federal Real ID rules gain access to medical care outside the state.

While vetoing a Democrat-sponsored bill that would have had the state buy passports for veterans in that situation, the Republican governor urged legislators to quickly pass another bill, which would supersede a state law based on privacy concerns and bring Maine into compliance with the federal security standards established by the Real ID program.

Maine is one of only four states that are not in compliance with the Real ID law and among the consequences is that Maine drivers’ licenses are no longer valid for entering federal facilities in other states. The problem was addressed in a bill sponsored by Assistant House Majority Leader Jared Golden of Lewiston, which passed with bipartisan support in the House and Senate earlier this month.

LePage said he respected the intent of the bill but could not ignore others who are affected by Maine’s non-compliance with Real ID, which next year could mean Maine licenses won’t be acceptable to board domestic flights, among other effects.

“I respectfully urge the Legislature to not provide case-by-case carve outs for groups being affected by Real ID,” wrote LePage in his veto letter. “Rather, my advice to the Legislature is to speedily pass LD 306.”

That bill, sponsored by Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, would force Maine to become fully compliant with Real ID. Among the shortfalls in Maine is that the Bureau of Motor Vehicles doesn’t use the required facial recognition software or fingerprint BMV employees, which are both requirements in the 2005 federal law. Maine has also not started to use Homeland Security-approved security markings on ID cards. Coming into compliance would require re-issuing more than 1 million Maine licenses.

Diamond’s bill was voted out of the Transportation Committee in a divided report on March 24 and awaits consideration in the House and Senate. It was amended to include an opt-out of Real ID provisions for Maine drivers concerned that their privacy would be compromised.

Brig. Gen. Douglas A. Farnham, adjutant general of the Maine National Guard, said there were other problems with Golden’s bill.

“The bill calls for the Maine Bureau of Veteran Services to make financial hardship determinations and gather data from HIPAA [medical privacy laws] protected federal medical facilities, processes that are currently not established,” said Farnham in a written statement. “This is an access issue for all veterans and Maine citizens. We need to pass LD 306 and fix the Real ID problem for all Mainers.”

Maine rejected Real ID rules in 2007 and 26 other states followed suit, though most of them have capitulated since then.

Golden said he urged LePage to sign the bill in a personal note Thursday morning.

“I’m glad the governor seems to recognize the importance of making sure that nothing stands between a veteran and his or her health care and I hope that his pen matches his words and that he signs LD 213 into law,” said Golden.

Votes to sustain or overturn LePage’s veto are likely in the coming days. The Legislature returns to Augusta on Tuesday. It takes a two-thirds vote of each chamber to override a veto. Golden’s bill passed with far greater than two-thirds support in both chambers.


Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.