ST. PAUL -- Two bills with a focus extending far beyond Minnesota's borders fell Friday to gubernatorial vetoes.
Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty struck down one bill that would have restricted Minnesota's conversion to an enhanced driver's license required by Congress in the name of homeland security. He also vetoed a resolution encouraging increased trade with and eased travel to Cuba.
The transportation bill, which covered a range of other issues as well, would have conditioned Minnesota's adoption of the REAL ID driver's license requirements on getting substantial federal financial commitments upfront and doing more to safeguard data. The ID requirements are intended to make licenses more tamperproof, but states have complained that the federal government has left them to pick up the bill for the costly conversion.
Estimates vary, but some lawmakers have suggested it would cost Minnesota more than $30 million to comply with the law. All driver's licenses and identification cards in circulation, more than 3.5 million, would eventually be replaced.
In his veto message, Pawlenty said the bill's restrictions would unduly limit Minnesota's ability to prepare for the conversion.
"If Minnesota driver's licenses are not compliant with federal REAL ID requirements after December 31, 2009, Minnesotans will be prohibited from using their driver's licenses as identification for air travel or for entering federal buildings," he wrote in a letter to top lawmakers.
Congress passed the REAL ID law in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Fake state IDs were used by hijackers who used airliners as weapons. It was also sold as a way to curb illegal immigration.
Aside from cost concerns, some skeptics of the program have questioned whether the privacy of law-abiding cardholders would be adequately protected in an expanded data network.
Senate Transportation Committee Chairman Steve Murphy, DFL-Red Wing, criticized Pawlenty's action as taking "a stand in favor of an unfunded federal mandate and exposing the personal, private data of every Minnesotan."
In his veto letter, Pawlenty said he hopes the Legislature will send him a new bill that spells out which costs the state expects the federal government to satisfy and over what timeline.
"Many of the costs of REAL ID will overlap with security features Minnesota will pursue for its driver's licenses independently of REAL ID," he wrote.
Earlier Friday, House Speaker Margaret Anderson Kelliher wouldn't say whether the DFL-controlled Legislature would try to override Pawlenty on the expected veto.
The issue has been a sticky one for Pawlenty. Some Republican allies in the Legislature favored the restrictions and he had raised many of the same concerns to President Bush in a March letter on behalf of the National Governors Association, which he leads.
On the nonbinding Cuba resolution, Pawlenty said it isn't up to state legislatures to address trade policy of that magnitude. He said it would put Minnesota on record as contradicting long-held federal policy.
While acknowledging the desire of Minnesota farmers to broaden exports to Cuba, Pawlenty called the resolution "inappropriate."
"It is unfortunate that the Legislature passed a bill that completely contradicts a long history of U.S. policy against a totalitarian nation," he wrote in his veto letter.
He added that expanded trade with Cuba will occur when the government there embraces more democratic principles.
Pawlenty's stance puts him in tune with Republican presidential candidate John McCain, who has said he wouldn't lift a U.S. embargo on Cuba until he is "confident that the transition to a free and open democracy is being made."
(Copyright 2008 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)