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Legionnaire’s crisis at heart of damage-award veto override

November 27, 2018

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) — People who are harmed or injured in incidents that are the state government’s fault will be eligible for damage awards of as much as $2 million after the state House voted to override a veto by Gov. Bruce Rauner Tuesday.

The House voted 71-36 to override a veto on legislation raising the damage cap in the Illinois Court of Claims from $100,000. The override vote put the law into effect.

The deadly outbreak of Legionnaire’s disease at the Quincy veterans’ home inspired Rep. Al Riley, a Democrat from Olympia Fields, to sponsor the measure. The water-borne, flu-like malady has led to the deaths of 14 people since 2015.

Families of several victims filed lawsuits. Rauner’s critics claim the administration was slow to act in limiting the crisis, which ultimately led to plans to rebuild the entire Quincy campus.

Objections to the override of Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto, which would have capped awards at $300,000, prompted a dust-up over the Legionnaire’s crisis, a flashpoint among Democrats and Republicans for nearly a year.

Republican Rep. Peter Breen of Lombard complained that the bulk of damage awards would go to trial lawyers representing victims, instead of to education or fixing roads. Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, an Oswego Democrat, responded, saying she would “like to make a broth of legionella and pump it into the water system of his (Breen’s) loved ones, so they can be infected, they can be mistreated.” Legionella is the water-borne bacteria which, when inhaled, can cause the sometimes-fatal, flu-like malady of Legionnaire’s.

Rep. Jeanne Ives, a Republican from Wheaton, excoriated Kifowit, denouncing Democrats who “wish death on Republicans.” Kifowit later stood and complained her statement was mischaracterized and that she had said, “imagine if” legionella was in Breen’s water supply.

Lawsuits against the state go through the Court of Claims . Damage awards had been limited to $100,000 since the early 1970s. Riley said many other states have caps of $2 million.

In addition to Breen’s objection, GOP Rep. C.D. Davidsmeyer of Jacksonville said it would hurt businesses wanting to pick up state work because contractual agreements would require them to have sufficient insurance to cover the maximum award.

But Rep. David Harris, an Arlington Heights Republican, noted that plaintiffs first must prove the state was at fault for the injury and any compensatory award would be decided by the Court of Claims. He noted Iowa has no cap on awards.

The Legislature returns Wednesday for two more days of its fall session. Among issues yet to be resolved involve a Rauner veto on a measure that would set a 90-day deadline for local police to sign paperwork to help immigrant victims of crime . Cooperative victims of certain violent crimes qualify for visas to let them stay in the country.

Other vetoes awaiting House action are on legislation prohibiting tobacco sales to those under 21 and requiring online vehicle-sharing services to meet rental-car company safety standards.

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Follow Political Writer John O’Connor at https://twitter.com/apoconnor .

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