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Christopher Kays, For The Southern 

Murphysboro forward Jeremy House puts up a shot against pressure from Salem center Cord Brown during the Wildcats' 43-33 win over the Red Devils in the IHSA Class 3A Regional semifinal held at Changnon Gym on Wednesday in Mount Vernon.

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Illinois House debates guns, passes ban on bump stocks

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House on Wednesday approved a ban on trigger-enhancing "bump stocks" in its first votes on gun control legislation since a Florida high school massacre and the fatal shooting of a police officer in downtown Chicago.

The House voted 83-31 to prohibit the manufacture or sale of bump stocks or "trigger cranks," which increase the firing rate on rifles, effectively making them assault-style weapons. Lawmakers later voted 64-51 to prohibit anyone younger than 21 from buying or possessing assault-style weapons of the type used in the shooting deaths of 17 students in Parkland, Florida.

The Democratic-sponsored measures were two of seven on tap for floor votes Wednesday. But some Republicans supported them.

"Assault weapons have one purpose — to inflict maximum injury and death," said GOP Rep. David Harris of the Chicago suburb of Arlington Heights, a U.S. Army veteran who was Illinois adjutant general from 1999-2003. "You pull the trigger and the bullets keep coming out until the magazine is empty. No one needs this device to hunt deer or duck."

Despite decades of Democratic control of the Illinois House, measures to clamp down on firearms are few and far between. Chicago Democrats, faced with daily headlines of gun violence in the nation's third-largest city, come to Springfield only to lock horns with more conservative central and Southern Illinois members of the same party who strongly support hunting and the 2nd Amendment constitutional right to bear arms.

By mid-afternoon, the House was bogged down in debate over state licensing of gun shops. Advocates want state oversight of gun dealers to stem straw purchases, in which a gun-buyer then sells it to a criminal. The federal government licenses them but sponsors say there are too few agents to sufficiently check.

The sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Willis of Addison, eventually pulled the matter from debate over critics' concerns that they were asked to vote on it before changes Willis promised had been made.

Another measure scheduled for a vote Wednesday includes a ban on high-capacity magazines and civilian use of body armor, both of which were used by the alleged killer of Chicago Police Commander Paul Bauer on Feb. 13. Others would create a tip line where anonymous callers could alert authorities to a neighbor or family member who appears to pose a danger, and a waiting period for purchasing assault-style weapons.

The bills are HB1465 , HB1467 , HB1468 , HB1469 , HB1664 , SB1657 and HB1273.

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Who should manage city-owned parks in Carbondale? City Council and Park District consider changes

CARBONDALE — The City Council and Carbondale Park District took a hard look at the way a few parks in the city limits are managed now, and how they may be managed in the future.

Currently, Turley Park, Tatum Heights park, the Pyles Fork Greenway path, Evergreen Park and parts of the Carbondale Superblock (outside of the Super Splash Park) are leased to the park district but owned by the city.

As a condition of these leases, the park district is responsible for maintaining the parks in good order, condition and repair. Additionally, the district has the authority to develop programming for public use of the parks. The leases on Turley, Tatum Heights and Pyles Fork Creek have expired. The lease on Evergreen runs through October 2066 and the Superblock lease runs through November 2021.

According to the city, the district still continues to maintain the three parks with expired leases. City Manager Gary Williams and Park District Executive Director Kathy Renfro, along with the park district’s attorney, met in January to discuss the terms of the leases. At that time, the district proposed an extension of the leases for the three parks for an annual stipend of about $150,000 from the city to the district.

During the City Council's Tuesday meeting, Mayor Mike Henry said the request for a stipend comes as a surprise to the city, and wondered where the city would be able to come up with additional funds. He said the state reduced the city’s budget by about $500,000 and Gov. Bruce Rauner is requesting a similar reduction in his proposed budget for this year.

“It just seems you want us to take over some of the things that you don’t want to do anymore,” he said. “If we can’t do that, those parks might be shuttered.”

Harvey Welch, chairman of the Carbondale Park District Board of Commissioners, was asked about the district’s vision for the future of the parks. He said it’s difficult to answer such questions because there are so many issues to address with severe financial limitations.

The issue came up several times Tuesday that the Park District is limited by its ability to raise revenue because the only way to generate funds is through its property tax levy. Additionally, that tax levy is capped at 5 percent each year.

“The way things are going it is going to be difficult and some relatively hard choices are going to have to be made,” Welch said.

Councilman Navreet Kang said something needs to change in the Park District in order to make more money.

“The only thing that could produce money as an asset is the (Hickory Ridge) golf course,” he said. “Everything else are services to the public, and you don’t expect to make any money.”

According to city’s budget projections for the next year, it would cost the city about $320,955 to start a parks division. That includes one-time purchases like buying vehicles, picnic tables, chip-sealing roadways and purchasing other equipment the city doesn’t have, according to Williams.

He said a conservative estimate for the city to maintain the parks on its own after the first year would be about $173,000. He also said the city isn’t in the parks business, so it is possible it could become more efficient over time and reduce its costs.

Councilman Adam Loos had a couple ideas about how the city and Park District could eliminate the leases for the parks and reduce the property tax levy for taxpayers. The city currently has a 4 percent package liquor tax which brings about $540,000 annually. Loos said the district could continue maintaining those parks until the end of the calendar year and the council could pass an ordinance saying half of the proceeds from the liquor tax would go to the parks.

bhetzler / Byron Hetzler, The Southern 

Pictured is Doug Lee Park, which is part of the Superblock Recreational Center in Carbondale. It's one of the parks leased to the Carbondale Park District but owned by the city of Carbondale. The city's lease runs through November 2021. On Tuesday, the City Council and Park District hosted a joint discussion about the future of the parks in the city. 

“If this was successful and we could relieve you of that burden, and the attention could be focused on the park district providing a set of facilities and services that you wouldn’t otherwise have in the community of this size,” Loos said.

Additionally, Loos said the district could drop its tax levy by the amount it uses to maintain the parks. The other benefit would be higher-quality parks, he said.

Renfro said there are several improvements needed throughout the district, but at Evergreen Park alone, new bathrooms and concession stands are needed, as well as resurfacing of the park and oil and chipping needed on the roads.

“I think there is a distinction between maintenance, which we have been performing on the leased property and the investment of capital,” she said. “I think that's what prompted this conversation.”

Councilman Jeff Doherty said the basic function of the park district should be the parks. He suggested looking at the LIFE Community Center for places to cut back on expenses.

“I think the park district should get back to the basics, which is maintaining good, quality parks,” Doherty said.

Park District Commissioner Carl Flowers agreed the district should be responsible for the parks, but it is also responsible for providing recreational services for residents of all ages. He suggested another meeting to consider the ideas presented Tuesday as well as more areas to work together.

Councilwoman Jessica Bradshaw agreed there should be more conversation and that Loos’ idea is probably worth a try.

“I would like to see the park district do more in terms in programming in the facilities,” she said. “We have so much to offer in this region and I think there's so much potential just for programming.”

Welch said he chooses to believe both units of government are doing what it can to make the city better for all residents when trying to solve these problems.

“We didn’t create them (the problems),” he said. “They were handed to us.”

He also suggested continued conversations and another meeting to respond to ideas mentioned Tuesday.

Near the end of the conversation, Henry asked the park district for a list of deferred maintenance that’s needed, adding that if the city is considering getting into the parks business, it needs to know everything as soon as possible.

“This is something we need to address right away,” he said.

Trump puts GOP in the hot seat on guns

WASHINGTON — Putting fellow Republicans in the hot seat, President Donald Trump called for speedy and substantial changes to the nation's gun laws on Wednesday, criticizing lawmakers in a White House meeting for being too fearful of the National Rifle Association to take action.

In a freewheeling, televised session that stretched for an hour, Trump rejected both his party's incremental approach and its legislative strategy that has stalled action in Congress. Giving hope to Democrats, he said he favored a "comprehensive" approach to addressing violence like the shooting at Florida school earlier this month, although he offer no specific details.

Instead, Trump again voiced his support for expanded background checks. He endorsed increased school security and mental health resources, and he reaffirmed his support for raising the age to 21 for purchasing some firearms. Trump also mentioned arming teachers, and said his administration, not Congress, would ban bump-stock devices that enable guns to fire like automatic weapons with an executive order.

"We can't wait and play games and nothing gets done," Trump said as he opened the session with 17 House and Senate lawmakers. "We want to stop the problems."

Trump also raised eyebrows by suggesting that law enforcement officials should be able to confiscate people's firearms without a court order to prevent potential tragedies.

"Take the guns first, go through due process second," he suggested.

The president has previously backed ideas popular with Democrats, only to back away when faced with opposition from his conservative base and his GOP allies in Congress. It was not clear whether he would continue to push for swift and significant changes to gun laws, when confronted with the inevitable resistance from his party.

Still, the televised discussion allowed Trump to play the role of potential dealmaker, a favorite for the president. Democratic lawmakers made a point of appealing to the president to use his political power to persuade his party to take action.

"It is going to have to be you," Sen. Chris Murphy told Trump.

Trump's call for stronger background checks, which are popular among Americans, has been resisted by Republicans in Congress and the NRA. Republicans have instead been leaning toward modest legislation designed to improve the background system already in place. Trump made clear he was looking for more and accused lawmakers of being "petrified" of the gun lobby.

"Hey, I'm the biggest fan of the Second Amendment," Trump said, adding that he told NRA officials it's time to act. "We have to stop this nonsense."

The White House meeting came amid fresh public debate over gun laws, fueled by student survivors of the massacre at Florida's Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who have been meeting with lawmakers on Capitol Hill. The school reopened Wednesday for the first time since a Valentine's Day assault killed 17.

Gun legislation has lost momentum in Congress as Republican leaders showed little interest in pursuing stricter gun control laws.

Democrats said they were concerned Trump's interest may fade quickly. After the meeting, Murphy, D-Conn., told reporters: "I'm worried that this was the beginning and the end of the president's advocacy on this issue. The White House has to put some meat on the bones. The White House has to send a proposal to Congress."

The White House is expected to reveal more on the president's plans for school safety later this week. That announcement will likely include goals for background checks and bump stocks, though whether age restrictions will be specifically addressed remains unclear, according to an administration official who sought anonymity to discuss private conversations.

Trump rejected the way Republican leaders in Congress have framed the debate, saying the House-backed bill linking a background check measure with a bill to expand gun rights by allowing gun owners to carry concealed weapons across state lines was not the right approach. The concealed carry measure is the gun lobby's top legislative priority. But "you'll never get it passed," Trump told lawmakers, reminding them that Democratic senators, including some in the room, strongly oppose it.

Instead, he suggested Republicans should focus on the background check bill, then load it up with other gun control and safety measures.

Ever the marketer, Trump suggested that the leading bill adjusting the National Instant Criminal Background Check System — now known as "Fix NICS" — could use a new name. "Maybe you change the title, all right? The U.S. Background Check Bill, or whatever," Trump said.

The hour-long meeting with lawmakers was reminiscent of one in January on immigration, when he told lawmakers to come up with a good bill and he would take the "heat" from critics.

That effort, however, ended in failure in Congress amid Trump's shifting views and priorities in the debate.

Among those at the White House Wednesday were Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., who are pushing their bill — which failed twice in the Senate after the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting — to broaden background checks to include pre-purchase reviews at online and gun show sales.

Trump asked Toomey if his plan to expand background checks included raising the minimum age for young people to buy an assault weapon. Toomey told the president it did not.

"You know why," Trump scoffed. "Because you're afraid of the NRA."

In fact, Toomey is one of the most high-profile Republicans on gun legislation, and the bill was opposed by the NRA. After earlier votes on the bill, the group downgraded its rating of the senator as he ran for re-election.

The meeting came after one major retailer, Dick's Sporting Goods, announced it was halting sales of assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines at all of its stores and banning the sale of all guns to anyone under 21. Walmart, the nation's largest retailer, followed late Wednesday, saying it would no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21.

The discussion was billed as a session focused on "school and community safety," and two of those attending, Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Rep. John Rutherford, R-Fla., have proposed new federal grant funding to stem school violence. The bill would offer money for law enforcement and school staff training, campus infrastructure upgrades and mental health resources.

Southern Illinois lawmakers vote against 'burdensome' state gun control measures

SPRINGFIELD — Southern Illinois lawmakers overwhelmingly voted against sweeping gun control measures Wednesday in the state legislature.

Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, objected to tough restrictions that passed the Illinois House on Wednesday as part of a sweeping package of new gun control regulations that ban bump stocks, raise the age limit to own an assault weapons and a three-day waiting period for sale of assault weapons.

“I think its overbroad and that it restricts people’s unconstitutional rights unnecessarily," Schmipf said before the vote. “I think it’s also very burdensome.”

One of the new measures, which still must go to Gov. Bruce Rauner for approval, requires gun stores in the state to be licensed. Changes to Illinois gun laws stalled last year after the Senate passed the measure, but the House failed to take them up.

Democratic House representatives Natalie Phelps-Finnie, D-Shawneetown, and Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton, both voted against the Gun Dealer Licensing Act, as well as the follow-up bill that addresses the issues regarding fees, video monitoring requirements that the Gun Dealer Licensing Act mentions.

“It would hurt a lot of the small firearm stores in Southern Illinois,” Schimpf said of the Gun Dealer Licensing Act.

But Illinois Senate President John Cullerton commended his colleagues for taking action on Wednesday.

“I’m proud of the Illinois Senate’s continued leadership in pushing for safer communities,” Cullerton said in a news release. "We all recognize the need for federal action on gun safety. But in the absence of federal action, I want to encourage statehouse colleagues across the country to do what we did today, seize this opportunity to make a difference."

Illinois House debates guns, passes ban on bump stocks

SPRINGFIELD — The Illinois House on Wednesday approved a ban on trigger-enhancing "bump stocks" in its first votes on gun control legislation since a Florida high school massacre and the fatal shooting of a police officer in downtown Chicago.

The Gun Dealer Licensing Act requires anyone in the business of selling, leasing or transferring firearms to be licensed with the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation, which would ensure that gun dealers are in compliance with state and federal laws. The act also requires dealers and their employees to undergo training to ensure that they know how to conduct background checks, stop theft, store guns and how to identify if someone who is trying to purchase a gun for someone who is prohibited from purchasing one.

In Illinois, gun dealers are only licensed at the federal level by the bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms. Although ATF requires them to do background checks on the buyer, it does not include video surveillance or background checks on all employees at the business or the gun inventory.

“An inordinate number of guns used in crimes are traced back to a handful of dealers and we don’t have the tools today to regulate those dealers,” said Sen. Don Harmon, D-Oak Park, who sponsored the legislation.

The push to reconsider changes to the state’s gun laws comes after the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, which left 17 students and teachers dead, as well as slain Chicago police commander Paul Bauer, who was killed on Feb 13.

The Lethal Violence Order of Protection, which passed the Senate, would allow a family member or a law enforcement officer to petition to the court to have an individual’s firearms temporarily taken away if the individual poses a threat to themselves or others.

“It’s a bill to run gun dealers out of busines,s not to regulate them,” said Todd Vandermyde, executive director of the Federal Firearms Licensees of Illinois. “It’s not designed to further any real cause or public safety matter. It’s trying to give people that don’t like gun shops a regulatory way to just run them out of business.”

Paul Schimpf

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Illinois Gubernatorial Race
Simon Poll: Rauner, Pritzker lead primary polls; Rauner trails both Pritzker and Biss

In the most recent statewide version of the Simon Poll, Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner leads challenger Jeanne Ives, a state representative from Wheaton, in the Republican Primary, by 20 points, 51 percent to 31 percent, according to a news release from the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute at Southern Illinois University.

In the Democratic primary, businessman J.B. Pritzker leads State Sen. Daniel Biss by 10 points, 31 percent to 21 percent. Former University of Illinois Board of Trustees Chairman Chris Kennedy trails in third place, at 17 percent.

In the poll of 1,001 registered voters across Illinois, conducted Feb. 19 through 25, the margin for error is plus-or-minus 3 percentage points. It is important to remember that among self-identified primary election voters, the margin is significantly wider: plus-or-minus 6 percentage points in the 259-voter sample of Republicans, and 4.5 percentage points in the sample of 472 Democrats.

In hypothetical general election matchups, asked of the full sample, Gov. Rauner trails both leading Democratic candidates by similar margins: Pritzker leads the governor 50 percent to 35 percent, while Biss leads Rauner 48 percent to 34 percent.

“It’s interesting that Pritzker’s and Biss’s margins over Rauner are essentially the same in The Simon Poll,” said Charlie Leonard, an Institute visiting professor involved in the polling, in the release. “One explanation may be that in the minds of voters — who may know little about either Biss or Pritzker — the decision may come down to ‘Rauner versus not-Rauner.’ If the election were held today, I’d rather be ‘not-Rauner.’”

Both Pritzker and Biss lead the governor by wide margins in the City of Chicago and the Chicago suburbs, while downstate, Rauner leads Pritzker by three points and leads Biss by eight points — keeping in mind the smaller sample sizes and wider margins for error in the geographic subgroups.

“It is three weeks to go until the March 20 Primary and major events could still move these numbers,” said John S. Jackson, another designer of this poll, in the release. “However, for all the money and attention these two races have garnered, the results so far fairly faithfully reflect the bedrock strength of these two parties in the state of Illinois, and this advantages the Democrats.”

Attorney General

In the Republican primary for Attorney General, Harvard Law graduate and Champaign-Urbana attorney Erika Harold, well-known in Republican political circles, leads the lesser-known Gary Grasso, a DuPage County board member, 18 percent to 14 percent, with almost two-thirds (65 percent) undecided.

The Democratic primary for Attorney General is as crowded as the gubernatorial field, with eight candidates vying for the nomination. State Sen. Kwame Raoul of Chicago leads the pack with 22 percent of respondents, vs. former Gov. Pat Quinn, with 18 percent. None of the other candidates registers double-digit support, and the undecideds total 39 percent.