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SIU Carbondale will no longer house students in the Towers

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois University Carbondale will no longer house students in the Towers, and will consolidate housing on the west side of campus this fall.

In a news release, SIU Carbondale Chancellor Carlo Montemagno announced that the university will centralize housing in the three-story residence halls at Thompson Point.

“By bringing students together in Thompson Point, we can continue to build a tightly knit, engaged community,” Montemagno said in the release. “It will also increase traffic to our Student Center, which should be a centerpiece of campus life.”

Montemagno said that although declines in enrollment contributed to the decision, it was primarily propelled by efforts to increase student engagement.

“As we rebuild enrollment in the years ahead, we will always have the option of having students on both sides of campus again,” he said. “For now, we can best serve students by making sure that they are part of a vibrant and active community.”

SIUC grapples with housing problem

CARBONDALE — With plans for a new housing facility declared dead on arrival, Southern Illinois University Carbondale must develop another strategy to update its aging housing stock in order to reel in students.

SIU System President Randy Dunn first proposed consolidating housing on the west side of campus at a Board of Trustees working session in July 2017 after a consulting firm determined that plans to build new east-campus housing could not go forward.

In the release, Jon Shaffer, director of University Housing, said the change will also create efficiencies that could lower future room and board costs.

“We can effectively serve students in one dining hall instead of two, for example,” he said.

New students who have signed housing contracts for the fall will not be affected because they have not yet been assigned rooms, Shaffer said. The housing office will assist 500 to 600 returning students who have already selected rooms for the fall.

Living-learning communities for students who share similar majors or interests will also be relocated to the west side of campus.

The university will continue to offer housing at University Hall, Wall and Grand Apartments and Evergreen Terrace, according to the release.

The Gathering Place Snack Shop, currently located in Grinnell Hall, will move to University Hall.

Gun Retailer Licensing | Reacting to Rauner’s veto
Southern Illinois firearm retailers applaud governor's veto of gun control measure

CARBONDALE — Southern Illinois gun shop owners and downstate legislators on Tuesday applauded Gov. Bruce Rauner’s veto of legislation that would have required gun retailers to be licensed by the state of Illinois.

The bill passed the Democratic-controlled legislature about two weeks ago, soon after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Illinois governor vetoes bill to license gun stores

CHICAGO — Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have required gun retailers to be licensed by the state of Illinois, calling it "unnecessary, burdensome regulation" that would have hurt small business owners and wouldn't have made communities safer.

Some owners felt the bill was unfair to small businesses, as “big-box” stores wouldn’t have needed to be licensed. The measure exempted retailers if firearms made up less than 20 percent of overall sales.

The bill would have required gun dealers to pay $1,000 every five years for a license from the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation.

Mike Chamness, owner of Mike’s Guns in Marion, said the licensing fee would have put stress on his business.

“We already have to have licensing, we go through all sorts of background checks and training, and it was just a piece of feel-good legislation that would make it more expensive for us to do business,” Chamness said.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Kathleen Willis, D-Addison, claimed the bill would prevent straw purchasers from buying guns legally and selling them to criminals. The measure would have required retailers to train employees to spot such purchasers.

Chamness noted that a firearms licensee has to answer whether he is the actual buyer of firearms in the first question on Form 4473, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives form for sale of firearms.

“If somebody’s going to perjure themselves by answering that question, or they’re going to perjure themselves with me having a federal license and a state license both, that has nothing to do with the dealer,” Chamness said.

Sen. Paul Schimpf, R-Waterloo, said he was glad Rauner vetoed the bill.

“This bill was an expansive government overreach at a time when we should be scaling government back,” Schimpf said. “This bill would hurt our Southern Illinois firearms dealers while exempting the big box stores from its onerous regulations.”

In a statement, Sen. Dave Fowler, R-Harrisburg, also applauded the veto.

“Senate Bill 1657 was an overreaching, redundant measure that would place a costly licensing burden on our local and small firearms dealers. Our conversations should be about advancing public safety and protecting our citizens' Second Amendment rights, not placing yet another unnecessary regulation on members of our business community that potentially will drive small gun shop owners into the ground,” he said. “As our firearm dealers already meet the licensing requirements at the federal level and are required to adhere to the regulations currently in place at the state level, this bill is an empty, excessive gesture that would have serious consequences if signed into law. I did not support this bill when it came before the Senate and I am encouraged that this bill did not receive the Governor’s signature today.”

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Illinois governor vetoes bill to license gun stores

CHICAGO — Gov. Bruce Rauner vetoed legislation Tuesday that would have required gun retailers to be licensed by the state of Illinois, calling it "unnecessary, burdensome regulation" that would have hurt small business owners and wouldn't have made communities safer.

"The core issue is not which guns to legally ban or regulate," the Republican said. "We have ample proof that such narrowly focused legislative responses make for good political cover, but they do little to stop the illegal flow of guns into Illinois or prevent people from committing thousands of crimes in our state each year with illegal guns."

The veto comes a week before the state's primary election in which Rauner faces a challenge from conservative state Rep. Jeanne Ives, who says Rauner has betrayed Republicans with his actions on several issues. Last week, Ives' campaign criticized the governor for not publicly stating his position on the licensing bill, calling it "the prelude to yet another betrayal."

The Democratic-controlled General Assembly passed the measure and sent it to Rauner about two weeks ago, giving him 60 days to take action on it.

The bill had the backing of Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Police Superintendent Eddie Johnson, as well as the three leading Democrats seeking their party's nomination for governor on March 20. On Tuesday, Emanuel called Rauner's veto "a slap in the face to crime victims, faith leaders and police" who pleaded with him to sign the legislation.

"With one week left in his campaign, Governor Rauner just put his primary election ahead of his primary responsibility to protect the safety of the people of Chicago and Illinois," Emanuel said in a statement. "The governor's decision was cruel, it was cold and it was calculated to benefit his own politics at the expense of public safety."

The bill was among several measures passed in response to the shooting deaths of 17 people at a Florida school and ongoing gun violence in Chicago, including the fatal shooting of a Chicago police commander. It would have required the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to collect $1,000 from each dealer for a five-year license and for the training of gun shop employees and videotaping of "critical areas" of such businesses.

The sponsor, Addison Democratic Rep. Kathleen Willis, has said that state oversight would identify and eliminate the practice of straw purchasers buying guns legally and then selling them to criminals.

But opponents noted that the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives already licenses gun dealers and its audits are time-intensive and expensive — a point Rauner also noted Tuesday as a reason for his veto.

"It's redundant on top of existing federal regulation, it's crushing to our small business owners and creates bureaucracy that really doesn't help keep our communities safer," he told WJPF radio in Herrin on Tuesday morning.

The Legislature narrowly passed the bill last month, making it unlikely that Rauner's veto could be overridden.

Other measures still pending include a measure to ban bump stocks, which increase rifles' firing rates, and to prohibit anyone younger than 21 from buying assault-style weapons like the one used in the Florida shooting. Rauner has indicated he supports the bump stock ban, but hasn't publicly stated a position on other gun bills.

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Murder charges waived after Pinckneyville man charged in 2010 death of 15-year-old makes plea deal


PINCKNEYVILLE — During a Tuesday status hearing, the man who in 2016 was charged with murder in the 2010 death of a 15-year-old girl accepted a plea deal, waiving multiple homicide charges, as he pleaded guilty to home invasion on accountability.

Chad Bennett II, 27, was initially charged in 2016 with four counts of first-degree murder and one count of concealment of homicidal death in the 2010 death of 15-year-old Sidnee Stephens. It was alleged that Bennett was committing a burglary when he kidnapped Stephens and later killed her, according to previous reporting by The Southern.

Bennett’s defense attorney, Bryan Drew, said his client has been in jail about two years and accepted the plea deal to being an accomplice to home invasion, having his other charges dropped.

Drew said there has not yet been a sentencing hearing scheduled but added that the crime could be punished by between six and 30 years in prison with credit for time served.


Sidnee Stephens

Appellate prosecutor Matt Goetten was assigned to the case for the state. Goetten said until sentencing is completed he would be unable to comment.

It was alleged at the time of Bennett's 2016 arrest that Bennett either shot or strangled Stephens in July 2010 and days later attempted to conceal her death by using a strap to attach a concrete block to her body and positioning the body under the Beaucoup Creek Bridge on Cudge Town Road in Pinckneyville. Stephens’ body, as previously reported, was found by fishermen on July 25, 2010.

As to what led to the dramatic change in charges, Drew declined to go into specifics before sentencing was complete.

Also charged in Stephens' death was her half sister, Dakota Wall, who was sentenced in 2014 to 26 years in prison, and others. The Southern previously reported that Wall allegedly left the door open so others could come in and scare Stephens.

According to previous reports in The Southern, Robbie Mueller, James Glazier and Carl Dane entered the house, choked Stephens until she lost consciousness twice, and took her to Beaucoup Creek, where Dane said in court testimony that he shot her two to four times with a handgun after removing her from the trunk of a vehicle.

In late August 2013, Perry County State's Attorney David N. Stanton dropped the original murder charge against Bennett, filing a Nolle Prosequi, which meant Stanton did not wish to prosecute the case at that time, reserving the right to refile charges later, according to a previous reporting in The Southern. He did so at the time because he didn't think he'd have anyone to testify against Bennett.

Dane committed suicide in his jail cell before being transported to prison after being sentenced to 60 years for murder.

Glazier is serving 60 years for a murder charge related to Stephens' death. Mueller is serving 37 years for the part he played in Stephens' murder.

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Culver's could be coming to Carbondale; City Council set to vote on site plan tonight

CARBONDALE — ButterBurger and frozen custard fans in Southern Illinois have a reason to celebrate once again: A Culver’s franchise could soon be headed to Carbondale.

The Carbondale City Council voted to approve a site plan Tuesday for the construction of the restaurant at 2401 Reed Station Parkway — the intersection of Illinois 13 and Reed Station Road.

Carbondale City Manager Gary Williams said the city is excited about Culver's moving forward with the project.

"The restaurant’s placement next to our two largest hotels will provide an additional service to visitors," he said. "I’m confident that the Culver’s brand will be able to attract patrons from throughout the city and county."

The new franchise will be owned by Maria and Aaron Jones. The couple also owns the franchise in Marion at 2605 Blue Heron Drive, which opened in December 2016.

Jones said Tuesday at the council meeting that the business hopes to break ground on or around April 9 and hopes to be serving customers by August 13.

“It is going to be a fast, exciting building project,” he said.

He said there is an initial $600,000 in material cost and $600,000 in labor cost in the building project.

“That is just a piece of the money we will be spending on the project,” Jones said.

Jones said the franchise has been very successful in Marion and he hopes to equal or exceed that success in Carbondale. Additionally, he said the city's staff in Carbondale was very accommodating to their needs.“Steve (Mitchell, economic development director) and his staff have been great to work with,” Jones said Tuesday. “The city of Carbondale has opened its doors and opened its arms and welcomed us.

“They made it easy.”