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Conceal carry prompting liability questions

    A man walks into a business and pulls a pistol, threatening chaos. Suddenly, an employee with his own gun intercedes, managing to wrestle the intruder down without firing a shot.
    Who faces arrest?
    The answer may surprise you, but both assailant and hero could be in for the third degree.
    That’s one of many broad effects of a new state law allowing licensed concealed carry of firearms in Illinois. Such are the unknowns that it is likely to take many legal challenges to determine how the law will fare when it is finished rolling out later this year.
    “Is a person at risk of arrest for carrying a weapon where it’s not permitted? The answer is yes. Unlike some states, it is a misdemeanor for any person with a concealed-carry license to enter a premises with a concealed weapon if it’s been banned at the premises,” said Todd Sivia, an attorney in Edwardsville.
    Sivia spoke to a large group of businesses recently in a session sponsored by the Illinois Small Business Development Center at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville.
    Judging from the questions of his audience, the issue of a gun-toting society weighs heavily on the minds of employers. They wonder not only about their workplace but the places they send their employees, who often go into the field to perform their jobs.
    Sivia, who grew up in a small-business family and specializes in the subject as an attorney, outlined the new law and answered a score of questions, some with admittedly more clarity than others.
    The law went into affect Jan. 1 and immediately attracted thousands of applications for permits, which are now being processed by Illinois State Police. Conceal-carry firearms classes, which are mandated as part of the process, are drawing crowds.
     Guns must be concealed on a person, or if prohibited at a site, left safely locked in a vehicle outside the location.
     All permit holders must have completed an application, have valid Firearm Owners Identification Card, pay relative fees, have a driver’s license or state ID and have 16 hours of classroom and range training. The licenses must be carried by the permit holder.
     To be licensed, applicants are fingerprinted and must pass a background check. They must not have a felony or violent criminal record, nor have failed a drug test, nor have two or more alcohol- or drug- related driving convictions, among other requirements.

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The new Texas Roadhouse in Glen Carbon and the 1818 Chophouse in Edwardsville are among several popular restaurants to open in the communities in recent times. Some people say the area’s attraction as a dining destination has reached a place that now rivals anything in Metro East. Others wonder if the market has reached a saturation point.

    Sam Guarino remembers well the first time he predicted Edwardsville’s food future.
    He was sitting with Carol Foreman, former director of the Edwardsville-Glen Carbon Chamber of Commerce, about eight years ago during a marketing committee meeting.
    “I told her, ‘In the next few years, Edwardsville’s going to become a dining destination’,” he recalled.
    Guarino was, and still is, a partner in Bella Milano Inc., one of the city’s premier restaurants. Since it opened in December 2003, it has been looked upon as a catalyst for what has become a mecca of fine food.
    In the 10 years that followed Bella’s opening, the city and neighboring Glen Carbon landed several notable dining establishments — 1818 Chophouse, Cleveland-Heath, 54th Street Grill and Bar, Wang Gang, Mike Shannon’s Grill and Peel Wood Fired Pizza, among them.
    The competition is good, Guarino said, because it forces owners to stay on their toes.
     “Now, you could eat at a different place that you could enjoy every day for weeks,” he said.
    But, he adds, there is a “flip side” to all this, and the city may have reached the saturation point. Guarino believes that only the strong are going to survive.
    “Today, we’re in the opposite situation, and we’re pretty bloated in terms of restaurants,” he said. “Now, we are a dining destination. Going forward, I think it will be a zero sum game.” In other words, for every restaurant that opens, another will close.

    Illinois began 2014 a more taxpayer-friendly state.
    Business and taxpayer groups are hailing a new, independent tribunal for state tax disputes as a boon to businesses and individual taxpayers and a significant step toward a friendlier business climate.
    For the first time, Illinois taxpayers can appeal an Illinois Department of Revenue tax ruling to a body that’s independent of the department and do so without first paying disputed taxes, penalties and interest. The tribunal will hear cases involving taxes administered by the Department of Revenue if the amount in dispute is more than $15,000.
    “Establishment of a tax tribunal was a huge win for Illinois taxpayers,” said Doug Whitley, president and chief executive officer of the Illinois Chamber of Commerce.
    Whitley said the legislation that created the tribunal was a remarkable achievement for a state that is often unfriendly to business.
    The new law is based on the American Bar Association’s Model State Administrative Tax Tribunal Act.
    Under previous law, a taxpayer facing an assessed tax liability had two avenues of appeal – challenging the assessment in an administrative hearing within the Department of Revenue, or paying the disputed tax, penalties and interest under protest and taking the dispute directly to circuit court.
    The administrative law judges who conduct the Department of Revenue hearings are department employees. They work in the same buildings as other Department of Revenue staff and sit in judgment of decisions of their co-workers. Correctly or not, many taxpayers perceive the process as more favorable to the department than to taxpayers. Many consider it an outright conflict of interest.
    The tribunal will have offices in Chicago and Springfield. It will follow the same rules of discovery and evidence used in the circuit courts. Appeals from the tribunal will go directly to appellate courts. As many as four administrative law judges can be appointed to the tribunal as caseloads warrant. Taxpayers still have the option of paying under protest and taking their appeals directly to circuit court.
    The call for an independent tribunal became law in 2011 when the Legislature approved a bill that authorized multi-million-dollar tax breaks for giant retailer Sears and the Chicago Mercantile Exchange, which were threatening to move out of Illinois.
    A little-noticed provision of that legislation called for establishment of an independent tax tribunal by 2013. It didn’t happen quite that quickly but the tribunal opened for business on Jan. 2.
    The tribunal’s website offers information about jurisdiction, rules, filing and methods of contact. It can be found at http://www.illinois.gov/taxtribunal.

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Alton Attorney Partners with Elementary School to Feed Low-Income Children

By SARAH PATSAROS

    When teachers see Sarah Burns walking down the hallway at an elementary school in the Alton School District, they recognize her as the person who organizes the district’s Blessings in a Backpack program. Since school started in August, Burns has coordinated the shopping, delivery and packing of food for approximately 200 low-income students to take home with them each weekend.
    Burns, an attorney at the Simmons Law Firm, is quick to point to the help she receives from the Simmons Employee Foundation and the volunteers who help pack the bags on the first Thursday of the month.
    By herself, she said, it takes 45 minutes to pack 25 bags. On Jan. 23, about 15 volunteers packed 1,200 bags, organized them into boxes by week, and loaded them into the storage room for the teachers to distribute each Friday for the rest of February in that same 45 minute time span.
    "I couldn't do it without the volunteers," Burns said. "A lot of people put forth a little bit of time and it makes a big difference."
blessings-in-backpackSimmons employees load students’ weekend meals, provided through the Alton School District’s Blessings in a Backpack program, into a volunteer’s truck for delivery to the storage room.    Simmons Shareholder Amy Garrett tells a different story. Garrett was SEF president when Burns proposed Blessings in a Backpack as the charity for the foundation’s 2013 Golf Tournament. She credits the program’s success to Burns’ dedication.
    "Everyone knows that Blessings in a Backpack program was the recipient of this year's Golf Tournament," said Garrett. "What people don't know is how much work Sarah has done since we awarded them the check to ensure the kids get their food every weekend."
    Blessings in a Backpack is a national program that partners with schools to discretely provide weekend meals to 62,000 children nationwide who might otherwise go hungry. Better test scores, improved reading skills, positive behavior, improved health and increased attendance have been attributed to the program. U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., lent his support to the program this past September when he helped pack 1,000 bags at a Department of Education event in Washington, D.C., in an effort to bring more attention to food insecurity.
    "Sarah is solely responsible for bringing this program here to the Alton School District," Garrett said.
    As part of Burns’ responsibilities as program coordinator, she develops a month's worth of weekend menus or more. She picks food items, within a predetermined price range, off of a “menu” compiled by dieticians from Blessings in a Backpack. She must have at least one breakfast item, entrée items and a healthy snack. Then, she strategically shops at local grocery stores in order to find the best prices.
    For example, last October, she found Slim Jims – a popular item with the kids – on sale for 18 cents. Previously, she'd bought them for 25 cents. She bought 800 so the kids get a Slim Jim each weekend and saved a total of $56. Considering the bags cost roughly $2 a child, that's significant savings.
    Since August, Burns has worked out the logistics of the project. She orders the food ahead of time and volunteers pick it up at local grocery stores and deliver it straight to the school cafeteria where other volunteers are waiting to organize, sort and pack. This happens the first Thursday of every month. They pack bags for the entire month or more, depending on the holidays, at one time.
    "Sarah's motivation to help children just like hers has inspired a lot of other people here at the firm," said SEF 2014 President Amy Fair. "Then, being able to pack the bags right there at the school, not only makes the process easier, but it hits home when you see the kids' artwork on the walls and their little tables where they sit during lunch."
    Challenges still exist. Fresh produce or fruits can only be included for the first week. Also, more healthy items like a whole-grain cereal in individual packages are hard to find within the $2/bag budget.
    The work, Burns said, is worth it. She goes home every weekend and feels better because of what the foundation has helped her do with Blessings in a Backpack.
    "I feel like I can relax more on Friday nights because I know those kids have something in their bellies and that's one less thing they have to worry about," she said. "I hope the volunteers and the donors think about that, too."
    Volunteers will pack bags again on March 7. To help or donate, contact Burns at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..