AUGUSTA — More than 40 state House Republicans who had backed a measure to provide identification cards for veterans reversed their stance Tuesday to sustain Gov. Paul LePage’s veto of a bill they had earlier supported.
“This was a sad vote that shows how partisanship gets in the way of our work even after a bill receives near unanimous support,” said the proposal’s sponsor, state Rep. Jared Golden, D-Auburn, the assistant House majority leader.
He said “the real losers in this mess are the veterans” who won’t get the assistance they need.
LePage refused to sign the bill last week because, the governor said, it provided only a limited fix for a problem that goes far beyond the need of about 500 veterans in southern Maine to obtain IDs that comply with federal security rules.
Legislators are weighing plans to have state driver’s licenses comply with the Real ID law but haven’t yet taken action.
Golden spent a couple of months working out a solution for the veterans who need IDs to enter a New Hampshire military facility that’s required the new IDs since Feb. 1. He eventually settled on a plan to provide them with U.S. passport cards that would suffice to enter the Pease Air National Guard Base.
The bill initially passed the House by 110-8 margin, well above the two-thirds level required to overturn a veto. It passed the Senate unanimously.
But when lawmakers considered a veto override Tuesday, more than 50 House Republicans sided with the governor and voted to sustain LePage’s veto. Golden said going into it, he wasn’t sure what the House would do.
Golden said LePage’s veto letter “cast enough confusion” to leave Republicans unsure whether they should continue to back the bill.
Golden said the bill offered a “simple win” for everyone with only a small price tag to help struggling veterans. Instead, he said, it fell victim to “political bickering.”
“We shouldn’t turn our backs on Maine veterans,” said Rep. Louis Luchini, D-Ellsworth, the House chair of the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee.
“The Legislature caused this problem, it is our job to fix it,” he said in a prepared statement. “This bill was a small amount of money that would have made a world of difference in the lives of many Maine veterans.”
Democrats said that even if a Real ID fix is approved this session, it will likely take a year to implement, leaving the veterans with no options until then.
“The real issue is that I have neighbors that can’t see their doctors,” said Rep. Deane Rykerson, D-Kittery.