Sunday, August 25, 2019

Polls: Voters Often Blame Mental Illness Instead of Gun Laws for Mass Shootings


While Florida Democrats are pushing for a special legislative session on gun control, polls say voters often blame mental illness for America’s mass shooting epidemic.

According to a Hill-HarrisX survey taken earlier this month, 30 percent of registered voters across the nation think mental illness is the most to blame for mass shootings while 24 think weak gun laws are to blame while 21 percent point to hateful public rhetoric.

President Donald Trump told reporters that social media companies could do more to help “detect mass shooters” based on what is posted on Twitter and Facebook but only 7 percent think social media should have the most blame for mass shootings while 4 percent point to video games and 3 percent point to movies and TV.

There is something of a partisan divide with 39 percent of Republican and independent voters saying mental illness is mostly to blame for massing shootings while 40 percent of Democrats say weaker gun laws should bear most of the blame.

The Hill-HarrisX of 1,0000 registered voters was taken from Aug. 8 through Aug. 9 and had a margin of error of +/- 3.1 percent.

A Fox News poll taken this month shows 56 percent of those surveyed blame the lack of mental health services for mass shootings and the same percentage of voter blame weak gun laws while 40 percent said white nationalism, 39 percent point to bad parenting, 34 percent point to Trump, 23 blame violent video games and 15 percent blaming comments from Democratic leaders.

One of the main areas that stuck out in the Fox News poll is what the pollster called the “partisan divide.” A strong majority of Democrats–79 percent–say easy access to guns is to blame while 62 percent point to white nationalism and 59 percent to Trump.

But Republicans had a much different view with 60 percent saying inadequate mental health services was to blame, 54 percent pointing to bad parenting and 32 percent insisting weak gun laws are a major reason for mass shootings.

Two out of three voters surveyed–67 percent–want to ban assault rifles and semi-automatic weapons. This includes 86 percent of Democrats and 58 percent of voters outside the major parties. Republicans are divided on a ban with 46 percent backing the idea and the same percentage against it.

The poll of 1,013 registered voters was taken from Aug. 11 through Aug. 13 and had a margin of error of +/-3 percent.


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Ashley Moody Joins Other AGs, Telephone Companies in Cracking Down on Robocalls

telephone scam

This week, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody threw her support behind efforts to crack down on robocalls.

Moody and more than 50 other attorneys general from other states, the District of Columbia and other parts of the U.S. teamed up with telephone companies to back the “Anti-Robocall Principles” which they say will help go after robocalls.

“Following the new principles, the voice service providers will implement new technology to help eliminate millions of these illegal calls and track the source of the calls,” Moody’s office insisted.

“Scammers are using spoofing and cutting-edge software to make millions of illegal robocalls every day,” Moody said. “Through these new principles, the nation’s largest voice service providers are fighting back using their own advanced technology. Not only will these new efforts help consumers block unwanted calls, they will also provide attorneys general nationwide crucial information to stop scams and hold those who make illegal robocalls accountable.”

The Anti-Robocall Principles for voice service providers include:

Offer free call blocking and labeling;
Implement STIR/SHAKEN call authentication;
Analyze and monitor network traffic;
Investigate suspicious calls and calling patterns;
Confirm the identity of commercial customers;
Require traceback cooperation in contracts;
Cooperate in traceback investigations; and
Communicate with state attorneys general about recognized scams and trends in illegal robocalling.

The private companies helping Moody and the other attorneys general include AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon and Windstream.


Student Loan Payment Reform Championed by Florida Congressional Delegation Comes to Tallahassee

student loans

A proposal to help Americans behind on their student loan payments championed by members of the Florida delegation on Capitol Hill is coming to Tallahassee.

State Rep. Joy Goff-Marcil, D-Maitland, filed The “Protecting Job Opportunities for Borrowers (JOBs) in Florida Act” and her office explained the rationale behind it on Friday.

“Currently, the state of Florida authorizes the Florida Department of Health to suspend licenses of healthcare workers who have defaulted on their state or federal government-backed student loans. If passed, this bill will put an end to this practice and provide a safeguard for Florida’s healthcare workers,” Goff-Marcil’s office noted.

“The goal of this legislation is simple – to protect jobs for Floridians,” Goff-Marcil said on Friday. “When we allow the Department of Health to repossess someone’s healthcare license, we’re only worsening the student debt crisis in this country and furthering our state’s shortage of healthcare workers. It doesn’t make sense to deprive someone of their livelihood as a way to collect on student loans.”

The Maitland Democrat noted that 41.5 million Americans owe more than $1.2 trillion in student loans and pointed out that, in the past two years, the state of Florida has suspended almost 130 healthcare licenses due to student loan default.

“Denying qualified healthcare workers the right to a career is wrong, especially when we already face a shortage of healthcare workers in Florida. This bill is about jobs, it’s about addressing the cost of education, and it’s about access to healthcare. I’m excited to file such an important piece of bipartisan legislation,” Goff-Marcil said.

Goff-Marcil’s office noted a similar bill in Congress backed by two members of the Florida delegation.

Earlier this year, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., teamed up with U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., to bring back the “Protecting Job Opportunities for Borrowers (Protecting JOBs) Act” which “would help to ensure borrowers are not inhibited from working in their trained field solely because they fell behind on their federal student loan payments” and “would prevent states from suspending, revoking or denying state professional, teaching, or driver’s licenses solely because a borrower falls behind on their federal student loan payments.”

Rubio weighed in on the bill when he brought it out.

“It is wrong to threaten a borrower’s livelihood by rescinding a professional license from those who are struggling to repay student loans, and it deprives hardworking Americans of dignified work,” Rubio said. “Our bill fixes this ‘catch-22’ and ensures that borrowers are able to continue working to pay off their loans, instead of being caught in a modern-day debtors prison.”

“We shouldn’t punish people struggling to pay back their student loans by taking away their drivers’ or professional licenses, preventing them from going to work and making a living,” said Warren who is running for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Our bipartisan bill removes these senseless roadblocks so that borrowers can build better financial futures.”

“Beginning two years after enactment, this legislation would prevent states from suspending, revoking or denying state professional licenses solely because borrowers are behind on their federal student loan payments. The bill achieves this goal by using the same statutory structure that requires certain members of the Armed Forces to receive in-state tuition as a condition of the states’ colleges and universities receiving certain federal funds under the Higher Education Act,” Rubio’s office noted.

The Florida Republican’s office also stressed the bill “prevents states from denying, suspending, or revoking state-issued: driver’s licenses; teaching licenses; professional licenses; or a similar form of licensing to lawful employment in a certain field.” The bill gives states two years to comply and “provides borrowers with legal recourse for non-compliance, by allowing them to file for prospective injunctive relief if a state violates the terms of the act.”

Rubio got some help from the Sunshine State last month when U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., teamed up with U.S. Rep. Mark Walker, R-NC, to bring out the House version of the bill.

“Many people take out student loans with the hope and expectation that higher education will provide an avenue to better a life,” said Shalala who was the president of the University of Miami and Hunter College as well as the chancellor of the University of Wisconsin, when she brought out the bill. “It is counter-productive and counter-intuitive to take away the livelihood that folks rely on to pay back their student loans. This bill is a common-sense solution, and I’m proud to introduce it with bipartisan support.”

“Stripping young adults of the dignity of work because of a student loan burden is counter to our American ideals and the ladder of upward mobility,” Walker said. “Instead of forcing our future leaders into a debt trap, we should be giving them every opportunity to succeed. The government should not be in the position to tell someone they don’t have the right to contribute to our communities and improve their life.”


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FAMU Group Running Medical Marijuana PSAs on TV Stations Across Florida

medical marijuana

Expect to see public service announcements on medical marijuana on Florida’s airwaves.

This month, Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative (MMERI) started running three different TV spots on medical marijuana and unlawful marijuana.

“The MMERI’s initial set of public service announcements (PSAs) began airing statewide on August 5, 2019, through a partnership with the Florida Association of Broadcasters.  The PSAs are part of an ongoing campaign and are broadcasting in English and Spanish. They were produced in May 2019 by Salter Mitchell PR, which conducted market research and focus groups to refine the message,” FAMU noted.

MMERI Interim Executive Director Dr. Patricia Green-Powell weighed in on how her group is working to help educate Floridians on this new issue.

“When you are the first mover, you have the advantage of helping to define the industry, but this also has its drawbacks,” Green-Powell said this week. “MMERI’s job is to create the template, but that is also how FAMU began in 1887. The difference here is that we have some financial resources to help us create this initiative, which is expanding rapidly.

“We’re in it for the long haul because that is the nature of our commitment to the state and this initiative, which impacts communities of color. We understand the dire need to make sure that our minority communities are more informed, and are considered when medical marijuana policy is made and research is done,” she added.

Back in 2017, the Florida Legislature voted to use finds from medical marijuana sales to educate “minorities about marijuana for medical use and the impact of the unlawful use of marijuana on minority communities” which helped lead to the MMERI which wants “to build a repository of information for medical marijuana education and research and establish the university as a touchstone center for marijuana information; fill in the gaps in medical marijuana research particularly as it relates to diverse communities; and to inform public policy, in Florida and beyond, about the impact and issues presented by the developing marijuana industry.” Under that law, FAMU receives $10 for every $75 identification card purchased by Floridians legally permitted to buy medical marijuana.


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Veterans for Career Education: Not All Veterans Support Donna Shalala’s Education Bill


Veterans have the right to use their earned GI Bill benefits at the school of their choice. Florida Daily’s article “Veterans Groups, Education Leaders Back Donna Shalala’s Effort to Close GI Benefits Loophole” argues that veterans and education leaders support Rep. Shalala’s bill that would limit veterans’ access to taxpaying schools (read for-profit colleges for those that continue to demonize the sector). But this is not accurate and readers deserve to know the other side of the story. Not all veterans are getting behind a bill that would limit our right to choose which higher education program we can attend.

As members of the military, we were called upon to perform our work under extraordinary circumstances and in remote locations far from our homes. If we can do that for our country, it means we are more than capable of choosing what school works best for us.

Veterans for Career Education (VCE) is taking a stance on the issue and fighting for veterans’ rights. Founded by veterans, for veterans attending career schools, the campaign aims to protect veterans’ rights to use their earned education benefits, like the Post-9/11 GI Bill, to gain career skills at the school of their choice. VCE is currently touring the country over the coming weeks and visiting 27 campuses in 10 states to support veterans’ right to choose their school, their programs and ultimately, their careers.

Proposals in Congress looking to limit veterans’ access to career schools would only harm access to higher education for the military community. Research shows that more than 260 schools serving over 150,000 student veterans may be adversely impacted by these proposals.

Veterans’ freedom to choose where they pursue an education is extremely important because our nation’s veterans are capable people. Many veterans cannot understand why lawmakers believe we can’t decide which education is best for us. Some of us choose focused career programs aligned with in-demand skilled professions–like welding, nursing, cybersecurity and aviation technology–to better ourselves and the American workforce.

Rep. Shalala needs to understand the negative impact her proposal would have on veterans’ education. She must stand with veterans who want to hold on to their right to pursue the education they decide is best for them. Student veterans, service members and their families using earned education benefits have the right to choose the school and program of study that best fits their career aspirations.


Michael Dakduk, is a U.S. Marine Corps veteran of Afghanistan and Iraq and is the  co-chair of Veterans for Career Education. Joshua Browder, a U.S. Navy veteran and Florida resident, is an ambassador of Veterans for Career Education.


Marco Rubio Calls on FWC to Protect Key Deer Population

Marco Rubio

On Thursday, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., sent a letter to Eric Sutton, the executive director of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC), urging the agency to ensure that Key deer populations, and their critical habitat, remain protected regardless of the species’ future federally protected status.

Rubio’s concern stems from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) national workplan for downlisting and delisting actions, which outlines that the Key deer may be proposed for delisting. Rubio will work to verify that any action by the USFWS regarding the Key deer’s listed status is grounded in the best available science and is in compliance with federal law.

In the letter, Rubio notes that the Key deer deserves special recognition and attention from FWC because of the importance that the species holds to the identity of many residents in the Lower Keys, and the species’ value to the region’s tourism-driven and environmentally-conscious economy.

The full text of the letter is below.

Dear Executive Director Sutton:

As you are aware, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (USFWS) national workplan for downlisting and delisting actions, first posted in June 2019, has outlined that the Key deer (Odocoileus virginianus clavium) may be proposed for delisting. I am concerned about the possible impact of a final delisting decision by USFWS on the species’ survival, and will await the release of the Species Status Assessment to verify that it is grounded in the best available science and that it complies with federal law. However, regardless of the species’ future federal status under the ESA, I request that your agency exercise its authority under Article IV, Section 9 of the Florida Constitution to ensure the longterm conservation and protection of Key deer populations.

Given the importance that the species holds to the identity of many residents in the Lower Keys, and the species’ value to the region’s tourism-driven and environmentally-conscious economy, the Key deer deserves special recognition and attention from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). There is widespread public interest and affection for this unique mammal that is found nowhere else in the world. Should the USFWS conclude, through a thorough science-based and objective review, that the recovery criteria for the Key deer have been met and a delisting (or downlisting) decision is warranted, it would greatly benefit the public’s confidence to know that the FWC was prepared to proactively seek appropriate state protections for these animals and their habitat throughout its historical range in cooperation with USFWS. Adoption of the Key deer into the State’s current Imperiled Species Management Plan is one such action your agency should explore in that scenario.

While federal protections under the ESA have proven essential to the recovery of iconic species in Florida, such as the American alligator and Bald eagle, and have staved off the extinction of many others, including the Florida manatee, Florida panther, and American crocodile, the State of Florida has a significant responsibility and moral imperative to ensure that our endemic flora and fauna are conserved for future generations. We must not rely solely on federal protections when direct state-level action can secure state and local conservation goals. Once again, I request that your agency promptly and proactively exercise its constitutional authority to ensure that Key deer populations and their critical habitat remain protected from current and future threats to the species’ survival.


State Representative Wants to Limit Public Dollars to Private Schools

State Rep. Anna Eskamani

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, has filed a bill to limit a voucher program passed last year and championed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Eskamani’s bill would keep voucher dollars from going to private or charter schools unless they limit any and all discriminatory practices, including forcing all schools that take public dollars to be ADA compliant.

“I’ve always expressed concern around the for-profit model for education,” Eskamani said. “I’ve absolutely expressed concerns with the fact that there is close to no regulation of the voucher system.”

Eskamani told Florida Daily that her end goal is not to get rid of charter schools. Even religious schools have a place, according to the Orlando Democrat, if they adopt inclusionary policies. She is pushing this bill because some gay students have been denied acceptance to some religious schools through the voucher program.

“Just like we expected and suspected, these voucher programs were allocating public dollars to schools that discriminate against, at this point we know, LGBTQ children and children with disabilities by having language that explicitly bars students with those identities to attend or even be considered for attendance,” she said.

Eskamani claims that a student simply claiming they are gay could be grounds for expulsion at some schools that are accepting tax dollars through the voucher program. This policy is even listed in some student handbooks, according to Eskamani.

“What is so concerning about the language we are seeing in some of these handbooks is that it is very stigmatizing to say that we are not going to accept children who have any refection of a disability,” she said.

The bill would ban private or charter schools from taking dollars from the state unless they would agree to not discriminate based on sexual orientation, gender identity, race, religion, or disability. This would force, for example, a Muslim school to take a Jewish child if they accepted any state dollars, or a Christian school to be forced to accept Muslim students.

Eskamani is also worried about students with physical or mental disabilities.

She wonders what would happen to a child attending a private school on a voucher who was diagnosed mid-year with autism when a school makes it clear in their policies that they do not accept disabled students. She pointed out that sometimes parents don’t know their child has a disability and learn about it from a doctor.

“Are they going to disclose it to the school for fear of expulsion?” Eskamani asked. “Are they maybe never even going to follow up with a doctor’s order for fear of expulsion? You just can’t have that type of language in your handbook.”

Forcing private or charter schools to take disabled kids would be exactly the opposite of what DeSantis is trying to accomplish. He wants the tax dollars to follow the student wherever they can get the specialized care that suits them best, be it a public or a private school. The governor’s announcement came at the Pace Brantley School, a small private school that serves children with ADHD, autism and other mental disabilities. Forcing all schools to take these children may hurt them in the long run.

Eskamani’s solution to this problem is a simple one, insisting telling parents before their child attends a school that it might not be the best place for their child.

The sophomore representative is hoping to get corporations behind her proposal, by targeting those that have both inclusion policies and give money to charter schools.

“It seems very ironic that these groups would give to this program which funds bigoted and hateful institutions while they try to carry this banner of being really inclusive,” she told Florida Daily.

Look for Eskamani and her allies to put pressure on those companies to stop giving to the programs if this bill stalls. She also plans to tell her Republican colleagues that the current system of vouchers is not even close to the free enterprise system the GOP holds dear.


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Florida Congressman Want Answers on Block Grants for Future Hurricanes in Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands

Darren Soto

A congressman from Florida is pressing the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) for more information on how funds will be distributed to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands in future hurricane recovery efforts.

On Thursday, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., the first member of the Florida congressional delegation of Puerto Rican heritage, paired up with U.S. Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ, to write U.S. HUD Sec. Ben Carson asking for the “publication of a Federal Register Notice (FRN) detailing the requirements for the disbursement of disaster recovery funds appropriated for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to mitigate the impact of future hurricanes, under the Community Development Block Grants for Disaster Recovery (CDBG-DR) Program.”

While Soto and Menendez led the letter, they reeled in some of the leading Democrats on Capitol Hill including U.S. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-NY, and a host of Democratic presidential hopefuls including U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-NJ, Kirsten Gillibrand, D-NY, Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass. U.S. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla., also signed the letter.

“In a recent background briefing, senior officials at HUD announced the agency would soon be publishing an FRN for $16 billion in CDBG-DR for disaster mitigation. While HUD officials noted that an FRN for a first tranche of funding for nine states would be published in the upcoming weeks, they failed to provide a specific timeline for the second tranche in which Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands would be eligible,” the Democrats wrote Carson. “Furthermore, the appointment of a Federal Financial Monitor to oversee billions of dollars in CDBG-DR funding to potentially hundreds if not thousands of contractors and subcontractors could slow the already snail-like pace at which HUD is providing aid to Puerto Rico.”

Menendez and Soto noted “HUD recently announced the decision to appoint a Federal Financial Monitor to oversee Puerto Rico’s disaster funds, which includes the disbursement of the $8.3 billion in CDBG-DR. $774 million were appropriated to the U.S. Virgin Islands under the same program” and insisted HUD needs to come up with a plan on how to deal with future hurricanes.

“More than a year and a half after enactment of the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018 (PL 115-123), it is unconscionable that HUD has failed to publish the FRN to disburse the CDBG-DR funds needed to help mitigate the potential effects of future disasters in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands,” the congressional Democrats wrote.


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Richard Corcoran, Casey DeSantis Help Board of Education Implement Substance Abuse Initiative

prescription drugs

This week the State Board of Education is implementing an initiative focused on substance abuse for students in grades K-12.

The new initiative and one passed last month by the board on mental health education will start with the new school year.

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran gave First Lady Casey DeSantis a tip of the cap on Wednesday.

“I want to thank First Lady Casey DeSantis for leading us on this crucial aspect to ensuring children are able to receive a world class education,” said Corcoran. “Students not only deserve to know and understand the perils of substance use and abuse, they need to have the vital skills necessary to ward off the temptations that might confront them. This rule is another step to ensuring Florida is the national leader in providing students with the tools they need for success both academically and in life.”

“The State Board of Education is committed to putting the needs students first,” said board Chairman Andy Tuck. “We firmly believe that a balanced education that includes instruction on substance use and abuse is absolutely essential to a student’s lifelong success.”

Under the new plan, school districts across Florida “must annually provide a plan and report on how students in grades K-12 receive youth substance use and abuse health education” which needs to be submitted by December 1 and included on the district’s website.

The plans must include the following:

The specific courses in which instruction will be delivered for each grade level.

The professional qualifications of the person delivering instruction.

A description of the materials and resources utilized to deliver instruction.

Additionally, by July 1 of each year, each school district must submit an annual report to the commissioner to verify completion of the instruction.

The board also adopted a rule entitled “Mandatory Reporting of Offenses Affecting the Health, Safety and Welfare of Florida Students.” Under the rule, school districts must quickly report to the Department of Education by school “allegations of misconduct by school district staff that affect the health, safety or welfare of a student.”

Florida’s first lady weighed in on the new rules on Wednesday.

“Nothing is more important to parents than the safety and well-being of their children, which is why this accountability initiative is vitally important,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “Ensuring Florida students understand the implications and ramifications of drug abuse will not only save lives but also help foster a healthy and productive learning environment. I commend the Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, and the State Board of Education for continuing to put an emphasis on the personal health and well-being of every student.”


GOP Senate Leadership Backs Ana Maria Rodriguez to Move Up in Tallahassee

Ana Maria Rodriguez

State Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, R-Doral, continues to get the support of top Republicans in Tallahassee as she looks to move to the state Senate.

Rodriguez has had a big week on the endorsement front. On Monday, term limited Sen. Antire Flores, R-Miami, announced that she wanted Rodriguez to replace her in the Senate representing all of Monroe County and parts of Miami Dade. South Florida Republican Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez endorsed Rodriguez on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Rodriguez kept the momentum going as Sen. Wilton Simpson, R-Spring Hill, who is scheduled to be the next Senate president after the 2020 elections, backed Rodriguez.

“The people of South Florida deserve a champion in Tallahassee who will stand up for them and isnt afraid to take on the issues that matter most,” said Simpson. “Ana Maria is a fierce advocate for her community and would make a tremendous impact for them in the Florida Senate.”

Rodriguez also got the backing of state Senate Majority Leader Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, and state Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, who both have their eyes on the Senate presidency down the road.

“Ana Maria is a force not just for the people she serves, but for all Floridians,” said Passidomo. “She understands that protecting Florida’s water is crucial to our state’s continued economic success and superior quality of life.”

“I am proud to support Ana Marie because she is a proven, common-sense conservative who isn’t afraid to take on the tough issues,” said Hutson. “She’s worked to improve education for our students and fought for policies to strengthen our economy.”

“I am overwhelmed by the level of support we are seeing here in South Florida and across the state,” said Rodriguez. “The values we share – lower taxes, world-class education opportunities and preserving our natural resources for generations to come – are resonating with hardworking families throughout South Florida, and I am eager to continue this conversation in the weeks and months ahead.”

Earlier in the week, Simpson, Passidomo and Hutson all threw their support behind former state Rep. Jim Boyd who is running to replace term limited state Senate President Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton.

First elected to the Florida House last year, Rodriguez also served on the Doral City Council. She does not have an open shot at the Republican nomination as educator, songwriter and community activist Angie Chirino is also running in the primary. Pinecrest Vice Mayor Anna Hotchkammer is running for the Democratic nomination.


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