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Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoes larger damages for Legionnaire’s victims

The Illinois Veterans Home in Quincy has had outbreaks of Legionnaires' disease three consecutive years. Thirteen people have died. | Michael Kipley/Quincy Herald-Whig via AP

Gov. Bruce Rauner has vetoed legislation that would have boosted the maximum damage awards to people who sue the state, including survivors of veterans who died of Legionnaires’ disease at the Illinois Veterans’ Home in downstate Quincy.

The legislation would have lifted the damage award cap of $100,000 established in 1972 up to $2 million, but in an amendatory veto issued Friday night, Rauner rewrote the measure to impose “a more reasonable and justifiable $300,000” limit on tort awards.

Consideration of the bill was spurred by the dozen negligence lawsuits filed against the state since the 2015 Legionnaires’ disease outbreak at the Quincy veterans’ home that has left at least 14 dead and dozens more sickened.

Rauner claimed a $2 million limit would make Illinois “an extreme outlier” compared to other states, and that it would “invite frivolous lawsuits and expose taxpayers to hundreds of millions of dollars of potential damages each year without adequate study or justification.

“I recognize that the current law is outdated and in need of adjustment,” Rauner said. “However, this adjustment should reflect regional and national averages in order to properly compensate those who, once properly adjudicated, were found harmed by the State of Illinois.”

State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Democrat from Villa Park who sponsored the legislation, slammed Rauner for the veto, saying the governor “continues to fail our veterans.

“His gross mismanagement and failed leadership killed fourteen of our brave heroes,” Cullerton said in a statement. “Now he refuses to give their families any resemblance of justice. His actions are absolutely disgusting and disgraceful.”

The bill passed with bipartisan support in the General Assembly, including unanimous state Senate approval and a 79-33 vote in the House. Cullerton said he and Sen. Michael Hastings, D-Tinley Park, would work to override the veto in November.

Rauner has drawn sustained criticism over the Legionnaires’ crisis, especially after WBEZ reported that officials knew about the outbreak for nearly a week before alerting the public. Democratic gubernatorial challenger J.B. Pritzker has continually hammered Rauner over the outbreak, labeling it a “fatal mismanagement.”

Rauner famously spent several nights at the home in January “to gain a more thorough understanding” of its operations.

The controversy led to the resignation of Rauner’s former head of the state Veterans’ Affairs Department, and the governor appointed a task force which recommended the home be completely reconstructed.

The state budget passed in June includes about $53 million for the first phase of building a new home.

Contributing: Associated Press