An Illinois state legislator has apologized for having issued a virtual death wish to another lawmaker and his family, and the House took the extraordinary action of striking them from the official legislative transcript.
State Rep. Stephanie Kifowit, D-Oswego, a Marine Corps veteran and a member of Gov.-elect J.B. Pritzker’s transition committee that will advise Pritzker on veterans’ issues, said Wednesday that she “used a poor choice of words during a serious discussion on our veterans’ health and welfare and safety. I would never wish any harm or mortality on anybody’s family.”
A day earlier, Kifowit’s comments on the House floor toward Rep. Peter Breen, R-Lombard, caused a stir when she said, “I would like to make him a broth of Legionella and pump it into the water system of his loved ones so that they can be infected, they can be mistreated, they can sit and suffer by getting Aspirin instead of getting properly treated, and ultimately die.”
The remark was made during a debate on legislation that would raise the cap on damages the state would have to pay on certain court of claims case awards, from $100,000 to $2 million; in his veto, Gov. Bruce Rauner had recommended raising it to $300,000, saying the higher amount would put too big a burden on taxpayers.
During Tueday’s debate, Breen – a floor leader for Republicans – echoed that sentiment, adding that Democrats’ traditional allies, trial lawyers, would make out like bandits with $2 million award caps.
The effort to raise the amount came about after the outbreak of the pneumonia-like Legionnaire’s disease at the state veterans home in Quincy that led to the death of 13 veterans. Families of residents are suing the state for mismanaging the situation. Their sympathizers say the outdated lawsuit caps would leave them with unreasonably low payouts.
Legislators overrode Rauner’s amendatory changes, but just barely – the override vote got the minimum of 71 votes in the House.
Initially, Kifowit said her remarks were mischaracterized, but Wednesday she apologized to Breen and his family.
“This did happen to our heroes, and my attempt to illustrate empathy for the families that were affected by this loss of their loved ones was not conveyed properly and I apologize for that. Lost in my comments yesterday was the obligation to work together on behalf of our veterans to make sure the situation in Quincy never, ever happens again,” she said.
Republicans joined with Kifowit and other Democrats to support her motion to strike the distasteful remarks from the House record.
Breen said he acknowledges and accepts Kifowit’s apology, but he called the remarks “heinous” and said that had she made them anywhere else she’d “be in custody right now. But because they were made on the House floor her remarks were met with applause instead of handcuffs.”
Breen, who is also a lawyer for the anti-abortion Thomas More Society, said he received a death threat earlier this year and said in his unsuccessful bid for another term (Democrat Terra Costa Howard will represent the 48th District come mid-January) he was subject to a “vile, filthy election campaign.”
“This body, this state … is at a tipping point,” he said, and called for “accountability” for Tuesday’s “conduct” in the legislature.
In other action, Rauner’s record took a beating, with the legislature overriding the governor on various vetoes – everything from one changing the makeup of the state board of education to one that will create an emotional intelligence task force.
Lawmakers failed to override Rauner’s veto of a plan to raise the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.
Follow Amanda Vinicky on Twitter: @AmandaVinicky