Longtime Chicago-area firm, Kraft Foods, announces deal to be acquired. The acquisition partner is Pittsburgh-based HJ Heinz, backed by 3G Capital and Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway. Buffett’s longtime interest in established American consumer brands turned to the owner of “Jell-O” jellied desserts, “Kool-Aid” sweet drinks, “Kraft” cheeses, “Maxwell House” coffee, “Oscar Mayer” prepared meats, and “Planters” nuts, as well as a wide variety of other consumer products. The deal, announced on Wednesday, March 25, was slated to present Kraft Foods shareholders with approximately $50 billion in cash and Kraft Heinz stock based on market trading prices posted on that day.

Prospects for Kraft’s corporate headquarters in Northfield, Illinois were not certain. Preliminary press announcements indicated that the merged Kraft Heinz would retain executive operations in both Illinois and Pennsylvania, for now. However, few observers of U.S. corporate customs expect Kraft Foods’ Illinois jobs to remain in place indefinitely.   

Faced with a $1.6 billion FY15 budget deficit upon taking office, Governor Bruce Rauner almost immediately asked for executive powers to reorganize spending and enable the State to get through the fiscal year, which covers spending needs through June 30, 2015.

Without immediate action, the State would have been unable to make payroll at Illinois prisons, low-income working families would lose their child care assistance, court reporters would be laid off and money for services for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled would run out. In addition, inaction would have further delayed and perhaps jeopardized critical categorical school funding and State aid payments.

After negotiations in which House Republicans were full participants, the General Assembly agreed last week to language contained in HB 317 and HB 318. HB 317, an appropriations bill, made cuts and transfers in State spending. HB 318, a budget implementation bill, granted the Governor the legal authority to carry out and implement the cuts in spending and spending transfers made in HB 317. Together, these bills work to fill critical holes in the deliberately unbalanced FY15 budget passed by majority Democrats and signed by former Governor Quinn.

My Colleague in the House, Rep. Keith Sommer has brought legislation to recognize personnel killed on active duty training. State law would be changed to allow the flying of flags at half-staff for Illinois military personnel killed while training on active duty under the new legislation. The bill passed the House Veterans Affairs committee on Thursday of last week by a unanimous vote following testimony from Dale Nannen of Hopedale whose son was killed in a Marine Corps training accident last year.

The legislation was inspired by the funeral of Marine Corps Major Reid B. Nannen of Hopedale, a veteran of two tours in Afghanistan who was killed March 1, 2014, when his F/A-18C Hornet crashed at the Fallon Grange Training Complex in Nevada. At the time of his funeral, state law only allowed the Governor to direct flags to be flown at half-staff for members of the armed forces killed by hostile fire, not in training.

Read more on this story at The Caucus Blog.

Up until this month, the Illinois State Police have required Illinois firearms owners to submit paper applications for concealed carry permits. However, starting this month, the State Police have begun to accept concealed carry permit applications online. This follows up on the startup period of the Firearm Concealed Carry Act, in which more than 91,000 Illinois residents have earned permits that enable them to carry concealed firearms. The Act became state law in July 2013 as Public Act 98-0063.

The Firearm Concealed Carry Act, which made Illinois the 50th and final state to have a concealed carry law on the books, was enacted as the result of a strong push from members of the Illinois State Rifle Association, which held their annual lobby day this week at the Illinois State Capitol. Gun owners gathered in Springfield on Wednesday, March 18 to push to defend and expand the law. Illinois residents continue to be subjected to time-consuming requirements as elements of the concealed-carry permit application process under current law.

SPRINGFIELD – Today, State Representative Sheri Jesiel’s (R-Winthrop Harbor) legislation to assist victims of human-trafficking in Illinois was passed out of committee with unanimous support. The legislation, House Bill 2556, creates the Human-Trafficking Resource Center Notice Act. Human-trafficking has become surprisingly prevalent in Illinois in recent years and Jesiel has taken the issue head-on with the support of fellow suburban Representative Barb Wheeler (R-Crystal Lake).

“Human-trafficking is one of those issues many of us don’t consider a problem in our daily lives because we aren’t normally directly confronted with it,” said Jesiel. “However, this disturbing practice is in-fact shockingly common in our communities. Right under our noses, human beings are kidnapped and forced into servitude for labor or sexual service. Sadly, this is happening in businesses just down the street.”

Have you ever wondered what life was like for children in the past? Now open at the Lake County Discovery Museum, "Growing Up in Lake County" shares the everyday and extraordinary stories of children who grew up in the county. Try your hand at living and working on a pioneer homestead. Discover what life was like for a young drummer boy in the Civil War. Learn about the first African-American family to settle in the county. Attend school in a one-room schoolhouse and play as children did over 100 years ago. Through real artifacts, historical accounts and hands-on experiences, children connect the stories of the past to their own lives in this new exhibition for families.

"Today, the Illinois House of Representatives has begun to conduct itself with the maturity Illinoisans have been demanding by taking the first difficult steps to address the $1.6 billion funding shortfall Gov. Rauner inherited from former Gov. Quinn. Gov. Rauner was handed a fiscal year 2015 budget that was drastically out of balance and required difficult action to save Illinois from further financial repercussions.

The legislation that passed the House today was not considered lightly, but recognized the reality that essential services would be lost if action was not taken. By acting today, payroll shortfalls and layoffs have been prevented in our prisons and court systems, while essential childcare services have been preserved. However, most important of all, funding has been saved for the mentally ill and developmentally disabled, the most vulnerable in our society that cannot stand to lose again.

I have said from the beginning of this session that hard choices would need to be made over the next couple years. Today is the first step toward a stronger Illinois and a chance to stop the old game of kick-the-can that previous Governors have played with our finances."

The Chief County Assessment Office and the Lake County Township Assessors Association will hold several public outreach sessions to assist residents in completing the 2015 Senior Citizen Assessment Freeze Application for taxes payable in 2016 as well as service taxpayer needs on other homestead exemptions available. Residents will work one on one with a staff member to complete the necessary forms. The Senior Freeze Application is due by July 1. Click here for 2015 Senior Freeze Application.

Seminars in our area will be held in Antioch on March 30, Lake Villa on April 7, and Zion on April 9. Click here for Dates, Times, and Locations.

The Lake County Health Department’s Animal Care and Control Program has launched a new webpage to help reunite lost pets with their owners. The page features photos of lost or found animals submitted by residents. Residents can send a digital photo, pet description and indicate whether the pet is lost or found to cjohnson5@lakecountyil.gov. Read the full press release from the Health Department here.

Opioid overdoses are a grim fact of life for emergency medical responders, emergency medicine physicians, law enforcement, and families throughout Illinois. In some cases, persons who have taken overdoses of opioid substances can be saved by the prompt administration of a specialized antidote drug such as Naloxone. In some cases, these urgent antidotes must be administered to people who have happened upon the drug by chance, or who are not familiar with the danger of these substances. In some cases, young adults and even children are the victims.

The hope of saving young lives pushed Naperville’s Rep. Grant Wehrli into action this spring. Appearing in House committee with DuPage County Coroner Dr. Rich Jorgensen, the sponsor and witnesses urged House members to support HB 438 (click here for bill details). This 2015 measure authorizes schools to administer an opioid antidote should that action be necessary to save a life. On Tuesday, March 10, the House Special Committee on Substance Abuse approved the measure by a vote of 8-0-0.
The staff of the Commission on Government Forecasting and Accountability (COGFA) presented their FY16 Economic Forecast (Click Here For More Info) to COGFA members at the Commission’s meeting in Springfield on Wednesday, March 10. COGFA is the nonpartisan economic think tank of the Illinois General Assembly, and their Revenue Update for FY15 and numbers for FY16 will be key background data to be used by the General Assembly as they modify the State’s FY15 budget and craft a FY16 budget to meet the urgent fiscal needs of the State.

The Illinois pension reform law enacted in December 2013 faced questions before the Illinois Supreme Court at oral arguments on Wednesday, March 11 (read more in STLToday). The Illinois Solicitor General, advocating for the law, stated that the controversial law had been enacted to solve a fiscal emergency. Established constitutional law authorizes a state, in furtherance of its constitutional duty, to exercise what are called “police powers” that potentially override other considerations. Plaintiffs seeking to strike down the law say that it improperly violates a section of the state Constitution. Illinois has the worst-funded pension system of the 50 states. A decision by the state Supreme Court, which is expected later this spring, could affect budget and pension law policies that will be before the General Assembly as it approaches the May 31 adjournment date.

HB 1516 (click here for bill details ), Rep. Cabello’s bill to increase penalties for truck accidents that inflict great bodily harm or worse, was approved by the House on Thursday, March 12. The floor vote of 85-23-2 sent the bill to the Senate for further action.

HB 1516 was a response to road accidents where a truck driver commits a willful violation of the Illinois Motor Carrier Safety Law, such as sleepy driving with a forged logbook, and the act causes a motor vehicle accident that hurts or kills an innocent person. Under this bill if passed by the House, if the truck-crash accident causes great bodily harm, permanent disability, or disfigurement to another person the conduct is a Class 3 felony; and if the accident causes the death of another person, the conduct is a Class 2 felony. A Class 3 felony is punishable by a term of 2 to 5 years in the Department of Corrections, and a Class 2 felony may be punished with a term of 3 to 7 years.

The Illinois Tax Refund Alert system, rolled out this spring by new Illinois Comptroller Leslie Geissler Munger (Comptroller's website), allows taxpayers to monitor the status of their Illinois tax returns, including an automated text-messaging system. Similar to the familiar warnings that many of us get when our phone or cable bill is due, the test message will tell eligible taxpayers of their payment notifications. Registration is free through this portal: myrefund.illinoiscomptroller.com.

The decision by the General Assembly and former Gov. Quinn to pass and sign an unbalanced FY15 budget in spring 2014 continues to endanger many Illinois residents. These are persons who are paid from, or dependent on, budget lines in the FY15 State budget where the amounts set aside were not enough to fully fund the expense item until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2015.

Examples of groups affected by unfunded FY15 budget expense lines include providers of subsidized Illinois child care, Illinois prison guards and circuit court reporters. These are individuals and contractors who have been told of a fast-approaching date when Illinois must find more money to pay them. Gov. Bruce Rauner has presented a proposal to the Illinois General Assembly to move money around within the budget to cover these anticipated urgent needs, but factions in the General Assembly who are politically opposed to the Governor have so far refused to allow this plan to come to the House floor for a vote.