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Even without $15 an-hour, Illinois' minimum wage is still higher 

Friday, September 08, 2017 4:32:00 PM

By Benjamin Yount | Illinois News Network

Sep 1, 2017

 

ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

Southern Illinois Senator Paul Schimpf says there's a simple reason why he voted against at $15 an-hour minimum wage and why he's glad Governor Rauner vetoed it: People can drive from southern Illinois to Missouri, Indiana, or Kentucky is less than an hour.

Even without a $15 an-hour minimum wage, Illinois' starting pay for new workers is still higher than our neighbors.

"The minimum wage in Missouri is $7.70, the minimum wage in Indiana and Kentucky is $7.25," Schmipf said. "This legislation would have raised out minimum wage up to $15 an hour. That's almost double what Missouri is, and it's more than twice what Indiana and Kentucky's minimum wage is."

Schmipf said business make decisions based on wages, but also decide where to locate because of other business costs. They're higher in Illinois as well.

"Here in southerwestern Illinois, we are in very close proxmety to Missouri, Kentucky, and Indiana," Schmipf noted. "Companies can make a choice."

Governor Rauner said in his veto message that he scuttled the $15 an-hour minimum wage because it would hurt businesses and cost the state jobs.

Schmipf said he absolutely wants to see workers make more, but by having new and better jobs come to the state not because of some government order.

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Exclusive: Traffic fatalities linked to marijuana are up sharply in Colorado. Is legalization to blame?  

Friday, September 08, 2017 4:27:00 PM

Authorities say the numbers cannot be definitively linked to legalized pot

By David Migoya | dmigoya@denverpost.com | The Denver Post

PUBLISHED: August 25, 2017 at 10:01 am | UPDATED: August 25, 2017 at 10:31 pm

The number of drivers involved in fatal crashes in Colorado who tested positive for marijuana has risen sharply each year since 2013, more than doubling in that time, federal and state data show. A Denver Post analysis of the data and coroner reports provides the most comprehensive look yet into whether roads in the state have become more dangerous since the drug’s legalization.

Increasingly potent levels of marijuana were found in positive-testing drivers who died in crashes in Front Range counties, according to coroner data since 2013 compiled by The Denver Post. Nearly a dozen in 2016 had levels five times the amount allowed by law, and one was at 22 times the limit. Levels were not as elevated in earlier years.

Last year, all of the drivers who survived and tested positive for marijuana use had the drug at levels that indicated use within a few hours of being tested, according to the Colorado Department of Transportation, which compiles information for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration’s Fatality Analysis Reporting System.

The trends coincide with the legalization of recreational marijuana in Colorado that began with adult use in late 2012, followed by sales in 2014. Colorado transportation and public safety officials, however, say the rising number of pot-related traffic fatalities cannot be definitively linked to legalized marijuana.

Positive test results reflected in the NHTSA data do not indicate whether a driver was high at the time of the crash since traces of marijuana use from weeks earlier also can appear as a positive result.

But police, victims’ families and safety advocates say the numbers of drivers testing positive for marijuana use — which have grown at a quicker rate than the increase in pot usage in Colorado since 2013 — are rising too quickly to ignore and highlight the potential dangers of mixing pot with driving.

“We went from zero to 100, and we’ve been chasing it ever since,” Greenwood Village Police Chief John Jackson said of the state’s implementation of legalized marijuana. “Nobody understands it and people are dying. That’s a huge public safety problem.”

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Federal judge invalidates Obama-era overtime rule 

Friday, September 08, 2017 3:58:00 PM

Though rule changes were frozen, decision will impact proposed rewrite

Lisa Jennings | Aug 31, 2017

A U.S. District Court judge in Texas on Thursday dismissed an Obama administration attempt to expand federal overtime rules, saying the Department of Labor relied too heavily on a salary threshold to determine exemption.

The expanded overtime rule had already been put on hold with a preliminary injunction just days before it was scheduled to take effect on Dec. 1. The late November injunction followed lawsuits filed by a coalition of 21 states and various business advocacy groups challenging the DOL’s authority in expanding the rule.

Judge Amos Mazzant III’s ruling on Thursday granted summary judgment in the case filed by the Plano Chamber of Commerce and more than 55 business groups.

In his order, Mazzant concluded that the proposed changes to the overtime rule had overstepped Congress’ intentions in determining who should be exempt from overtime pay.

 

The original intent was meant to exempt workers with executive, administrative or professional capacity duties, but the Obama-era rule relied too heavily on salary without regard for job duties, Mazzant wrote.

“If Congress was ambiguous about what specifically constituted an employee subject to the [executive, administrative and professional] exemption, Congress was clear that the determination should involve at least a consideration of an employee’s duties,” Mazzant concluded. 

Had they gone into effect, the changes to the overtime rule would have doubled the salary level threshold used to determine eligibility for overtime pay for hourly workers from $23,660 to $47,476 annually. An estimated 4.2 million middle-class workers would have benefited.

The changes would also have created an automatic mechanism for adjusting the minimum salary threshold every three years. In his opinion Thursday, Mazzant said those automatic increases would have been unlawful.

The ruling comes a few months after Department of Labor officials had already indicated plans to rewrite the overtime rules

In July, the DOL opened up a 60-day period of public comment as the agency went back to the drawing board on overtime regulations.

At the time, the department indicated a salary test was still under consideration, though the level set by the Obama-era rule was seen as too high.  

Mazzant’s ruling, however, could force reconsideration of a salary-level test.

The National Restaurant Association’s Restaurant Law Center praised the court’s decision, agreeing that the DOL under the previous administration had overstepped its authority.

“Today’s decision to invalidate the rule demonstrates the negative impacts these regulations would have had on businesses and their workers,” said Angelo Amador, executive director of the Restaurant Law Center. “We will continue to work with DOL on behalf of the restaurant industry to ensure workable changes to the overtime rule are enacted.”

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New York billionaire spending millions in ads in Illinois defending Cook County pop tax  

Friday, September 08, 2017 3:47:00 PM

By Cole Lauterbach | Illinois News Network

 ILLINOIS NEWS NETWORK

The world's 10th richest man, according to Forbes, is spending money on advertisements telling people across Illinois to let Cook County's tax on sweetened drinks continue to exist. That's despite its unpopularity and an effort by state lawmakers to ban it. 

Illinoisans as far south as Springfield are seeing political ads paid for by New York billionaire Michael Bloomberg that warn about the consequences of sugary drinks and their ties to obesity. 

"Soda companies are targeting our children and every day I see the results," Chicago physician Dr. Javette Orgain says in one of the ads. "If we won't protect our kids, who will?"

Bloomberg's spending millions here to help public perception of Cook County's wildly unpopular penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened drinks that took effect this summer. The Cook County Board will meet next week when an effort to repeal the tax is expected to be voted upon. 

Bloomingdale Republican State Rep. Christine Winger's district straddles the Cook County line. She thinks Bloomberg shouldn't interfere in local politics. She says the tax was never anything more than a cash grab. 

"This is the extreme of stepping in on local decisions when Bloomberg, with all the money he has, comes here and tries to control us here in Illinois," she said. "This tax is about the money. It's not about the kids to them." 

Winger and dozens of other lawmakers are sponsoring two bills that would ban taxing sugary drinks on a per-ounce basis, effectively killing Cook County's tax.

 

A recent poll showed the tax had an 87 percent disapproval rating among random voters. Bloomberg also ran ads supportive of Philadelphia's new soda tax this summer.

 

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Your debit cards are cheaper to use now: Credit cards should be next 

Tuesday, September 05, 2017 1:50:00 PM

By Mallory Duncan, Opinion Contributor - 08/22/17 01:30 PM EDT 73

Banks gouge merchants – and, in turn, consumers – by charging outrageously high fees price-fixed by Visa and MasterCard for processing credit-card purchases. 

You don’t see it on your receipts or bank statements. But you definitely feel it in your wallet because your bank shaves $2 to $4 right off the top of every $100 you spend when you swipe your credit card to pay for, say, a bag of groceries or a pair of shoes. 

On a big-ticket purchase like a washer and dryer, these “swipe fees” could add up to $25 in merchant fees, even though each card transaction costs the banks just a few pennies to handle.

Unlike banks, merchants’ profit margins are typically only 1 or 2 percent on sales. So they have no choice but to pass much of the cost of these swipe fees on to their customers -- or risk going under. 

Most merchants can’t refuse cards. And they can’t negotiate a better deal with their banks because Visa and MasterCard rule this market the way the trusts once ruled entire industries like meatpacking and railroads.

So swipe fees have swollen into many merchants’ second-largest operating cost, after labor. 

Back in 2010 Congress decided the banks had had things their own way long enough, and introduced the potential for competition in debit cards as a first step toward reform. 

The nation’s largest banks could charge fees as high as they liked, provided they did so competitively rather than simply charging the fees dictated by Visa and MasterCard in lockstep. Those banks that didn’t compete, however, would face a cap of about 22 cents per transaction – roughly half the previous average.

The new law did not convince any of the big banks to compete – they chose the cap on fees over competition because they still rake in so much more money than they would in a completely free market. 

Still, under reform merchants have saved more than $8 billion a year and passed about three quarters on to consumers. The House of Representatives this year reaffirmed on both sides of the aisle its commitment to fairness and a free market by rejecting the banks’ demands to repeal debit reform. 

Now it’s time to clean up the rest of the market – credit cards. 

Swipe fees constrict growth and cost jobs. They inflate the cost of goods, which cuts consumers’ buying power. Swipe fees hurt small- business people, who struggle to pay these outrageously unfair fees.

And they hurt low-income consumers the most. Everybody pays inflated prices to cover these fees – even those without a credit card.

The card industry tries to justify its gigantic fees by claiming part of the money goes toward preventing fraud. But card companies appear to be happier charging exorbitant fees than actually preventing fraud. 

Consider the highly touted “EMV” credit cards that have been replacing traditional magnetic- stripe cards over the past two years; they have an embedded microchip that makes it more difficult (though not impossible) to create a counterfeit card. 

But the card companies left a huge loophole: The new cards don’t require customers to enter personal identification numbers – PINs. PINs have cut card fraud throughout the rest of the world by replacing illegible, easy-to-forge signatures. Without a secure, secret PIN, the new chip cards provide at best half the security the rest of the world enjoys. 

Why would Visa and MasterCard try to stick Americans with second-rate fraud prevention by denying them the use of a PIN? 

It goes back to stifling competition. Visa and MasterCard want to keep all card transactions in their own processing networks, which use signatures instead of PINs as verification. 

That keeps this business away from the dozen or so highly competitive PIN-based processing networks. The card companies are determined to keep their stranglehold on the market, even though the Federal Reserve says PIN transactions are seven times safer than signature transactions.

The failure to provide real credit card security is a flagrant abuse of power. And it is consumers and merchants who ultimately pay the price.  

It’s time to take card reform all the way. There are literally billions of dollars at stake in potentially lower prices, less fraud and economic benefits. 

It’s time that big banks and card company giants finally give U.S. consumers the best that competition and innovation offer.

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Durbin repeal's halted for now, but the merchant fight goes on  

Tuesday, September 05, 2017 1:37:00 PM

By Mark Horwedel

August 22 2017, 11:00am EDT

Merchants recently gained an important win in their recent defense of the Durbin Amendment.

Lawmakers have shown little interest in taking up a debate that forced them to choose between two important constituencies, merchants and the financial services industry.

Nevertheless, large banks remain undeterred from their goal of overturning Durbin by condemning price setting and operational mandates, something merchants have had to endure for years at the hands of global payment networks and the banks that stand behind them.

The hypocrisy implicit in many of the banks’ arguments against Durbin show the banks really have no interest in anything resembling a free market. Some examples are:

Big banks band together in complete disregard for the free market and create a horizontal compact that sets supracompetitive interchange rates. They have neither the courage nor the competitive interest to engage in the kind of free market competition that merchants are accustomed to.

Bank opposition to new competition illustrates they really have no use for the “free” market. They came unglued a decade ago when one large merchant sought a bank charter. They sought protection from the same government they accuse of meddling in their business with Durbin-based regulation.

While merchants compete vigorously with each other for single digit profit margins, banks band together to soak merchants with hugely profitable fees for card programs. Consumers inevitably pay the price at the POS. Perhaps the Federal Reserve Board staff economists, who are supposed to work for all Americans, should study this market reality instead of conducting myopic studies that simply bolster the banks’ arguments that Durbin reduces the availability of free checking.

Bank pacts aimed at controlling faster payments doom the American economy to a substandard, closed-market approach that will witness the U.S. falling even further behind the rest of the world.

If it weren’t bad enough that banks themselves band together, bank-controlled card networks also band together at PCI and EMVco to develop policies that have shifted the burden of fraud and fraud mitigation from the banks to the merchants while disadvantaging competing domestic networks.

And, let’s not forget that many of them probably would have been wiped out for good in the 2007 financial crisis that they created if it were not for a government bailout.

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Gov. Rauner vetoes Democrats' $15-an-hour minimum wage hike  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 9:13:00 AM

 

By Dan McCaleb and Cole Lauterbach | Illinois News Network

Aug 25, 2017

Gov. Bruce Rauner on Friday vetoed Democrat-approved legislation that eventually would increase Illinois' minimum wage to $15 an hour.

The legislation was opposed by business groups across the state who said it would lead to layoffs and fewer work hours for those who can afford such cuts the least.

"Helping low-income families and individuals get out of poverty is a top priority, and I share the passion of many members of the legislature for improving the well-being of those struggling to make ends meet," Rauner said in his veto message. "However, mainstream economic theory and mainstream economic evidence strongly suggest that an increase in the minimum wage of this magnitude will hurt the very individuals it seeks to help."

Illinois' minimum wage currently is $8.25 an hour. Under the legislation passed in May on party line votes, the minimum wage would rise to $9 an hour next year and include several step increases until it hits $15 an hour in 2015. An override of Rauner's veto requires two-thirds majority votes in both chambers. Neither the House nor the Senate would have enough votes for a successful override unless a handful of lawmakers who opposed the measure initially change their votes.

In his veto message, Rauner cited a recent study by the University of Washington that concluded an increase of Seattle's minimum wage to $13 an hour led to significant job cuts and hour reductions for workers.

"The most thorough research to date, published earlier this year by researchers at the University of Washington, found that for every 10 percent increase in the hourly earnings of low-wage workers, there was a 30 percent reduction in employers providing those jobs," Rauner said. "This research implies that Senate Bill 81 will result in a net reduction of earnings for low-wage Illinoisans in excess of $1,500 per year."

Demorats criticized Rauner's veto.

Governor Rauner’s veto doubles down on his stance against some of our most vulnerable communities," Rep. Kimberly Lightford, D-Maywood, the sponsor of the increase, said in a statement. "There is no reason why a single parent working full-time should qualify for food stamps and Medicaid. Our workers deserve financial independence and the empowerment that comes from being able to provide for a family."

Others applauded the governor's action.

“Illinois retailers applaud Governor Rauner for standing up for Main Street businesses by vetoing SB 81, legislation that would have forced employers to reduce hours and eliminate jobs," a statement from the Illinois Retail Merchants Association says. "The state’s minimum wage is already the highest in the Midwest and if this measure had become law it would have put Illinois retailers at a competitive disadvantage compared to neighboring states."

Downstate businesses, where the cost of living is substantially lower than in Chicago, were worried that such an increase would devastate southern Illinois.

"You'd have to turn around, and to stay in budget, you're going to have to lay people off," George Sheffer, owner Murdale Tru-Value in Carbondale, told Illinois News Network earlier this summer. "The median wage in many downstate Illinois communities is less than $15 an hour. In Carbondale, it's less than $14."

Included in the bill is a tax rebate for businesses with 50 or fewer employees, but that break ends in 2025. 

A report released earlier this summer says a statewide pay hike might cost an already lagging state what little jobs they planned to create. 

"There will be 382,200 fewer jobs than there would be otherwise without a minimum wage increase," Ben Gitis, director of Labor Market Policy with the American Action Forum, said last month. "That wipes out, essentially, all projected job growth Illinois is planned to have over the next decade."

Gitis said the tax rebate offered in the bill also doesn't go far enough to protect small businesses from the economic hit to their bottom lines. 

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Fatal crashes in Illinois down 20 years after .08 law  

Wednesday, August 30, 2017 9:06:00 AM

Associated Press
mfrey@daily-journal.com
815-937-3343

Aug 21, 2017

SPRINGFIELD — Illinois is marking the 20th anniversary of legislation that lowered the drunken driving limit to .08 blood-alcohol concentration.

State officials said Friday that since the law was enacted, alcohol-impaired motor vehicle crash fatalities in Illinois have fallen by about 43 percent. The year before in 1997, there were 534 people who died in crashes involving at least one driver who was at or above the .08 level. In 2015 about 300 people died in alcohol-impaired crashes in Illinois.

The blood-alcohol concentration limit was .10 before the most recent change. When a BAC limit was first established in 1958, it was set at .15. It was lowered to .10 in 1967.

The Illinois Department of Transportation, Illinois State Police, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and the Alliance Against Intoxicated Motorists held an event Friday at the Illinois State Fair reminding motorists to drive sober. IDOT officials said that while there are fewer fatalities drunken driving "continues to shatter hundreds of lives each year."

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We Need a DUI Test for Marijuana 

Tuesday, August 29, 2017 4:17:00 PM

Barring confession, there's no way to tell if a driver is high.

Source: WSJ

By Ethan Siegel and  Alex Berezow

Aug. 22, 2017

 Cheyllyn Ranae Collinsworth, an 18-year-old Washington state resident, died in May following a car crash. The person responsible was driving under the influence of marijuana and has been charged with vehicular manslaughter. In states where marijuana is legal, car collisions are up 3%, according to the Highway Loss Data Institute. Although marijuana impairs driving ability, police knew the driver in Washington had been using the drug only because he confessed.

 No reliable on-the-spot test for marijuana intoxication exists. Urine tests, used widely by employers, are not useful for testing impairment. They detect breakdown products of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, marijuana's psychoactive component. Such metabolites can be found months after a marijuana high has worn off. Making the problem worse, there is very little data on the short- or long-term effects of marijuana on the brain and body.

 The only test that currently shows any promise for detecting intoxication is blood-plasma analysis. But empowering police officers to draw blood on the roadside would set up a dangerous precedent for individual liberties. And the connection between blood THC levels and intoxication is not well-defined, as pattern of use and dose directly affect the impairment level, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

 How to move forward? Researchers must first identify a reliable biomarker of marijuana intoxication. For alcohol, 0.08 grams of ethanol per 100 milliliters of blood has been determined scientifically to cause impairment in a substantial number of people. That's why 0.08 blood-alcohol content is the legal definition of alcohol intoxication in all states. A similar standard must be developed for THC.

 Scientists also must determine a straightforward test to detect THC intoxication. One possibility is a "breathalyzer" test for marijuana. Scientific American reports that one company, Hound Labs, claims to have created a portable device that measures the amount of marijuana consumed. Other companies are racing to develop blood-, urine- or saliva-based tests. Alternatively, a company could consider developing a test that analyzes THC with small blood samples, the way diabetics test for glucose levels.

 Another possibility is to develop a test that determines when THC was consumed. NHTSA says that impairment occurs for roughly three hours after cannabis is consumed. If the ratios of THC to its metabolites can be measured appropriately and over time, it may be possible to pin down the critical time when someone was first intoxicated.

 As more states legalize marijuana and its availability increases, ensuring responsible use will become more important. We propose that the federal government loosen its restrictions on marijuana research so that Americans better understand how the drug affects their minds and bodies. This will help quantify a meaningful marijuana intoxication standard. That rule-along with the consequences for crossing that threshold-must be derived from scientific evidence, not ideology.

 Mr. Siegel is the author of "Beyond the Galaxy" (World Scientific, 2015). Mr. Berezow is a senior fellow at the American Council on Science and Health.

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Chicago-Area Retailers Ask Appeals Court To Block Soda Tax 

Thursday, August 17, 2017 8:40:00 AM

Source: Law360

By Hannah Meisel

August 15th

 

A group of Chicago-area store owners Monday urged a state appeals court to block Cook County's controversial penny-per-ounce tax on sweetened beverages, pointing to recently filed class action lawsuits and warnings from the U.S. Department of Agriculture as support for the emergency motion.

 

The rollout of the soda tax two weeks ago has not been smooth, resulting in three major class action lawsuits against Walgreens, McDonald's and 7-Eleven for improper collection of the tax, though the suit against McDonald's was dismissed on Tuesday. Additionally, the USDA last week threatened to withhold $87 million in funding from the state of Illinois if Chicago's Cook County doesn't change its sweetened beverage tax to comply with federal law dealing with food stamp recipients.

 

The suits, coupled with the consternation over the tax's rollout, is reason enough to stay the tax while the Illinois Retail Merchants Association appeals the decision by a Cook County judge late last month to let the tax go forward, the store owners said.

 

"The significance of these lawsuits, all filed within the first week of the tax being implemented, is direct support for the arguments made by plaintiffs in the circuit court as to the harm that would occur as a result of the vagueness, confusion and inconsistencies within the ordinance, not only to retailers but to consumers who would also be directly affected," the business group wrote in its Monday motion. "The defendants' position that lawsuits for over-collection and other improper application of the tax was purely speculative has been quashed, as those lawsuits are now real."

 

The Illinois Retail Merchants Association, along with a group of Chicago-area grocers, sued Cook County over the tax in late June, just days before the tax was supposed to go into effect on July 1. The business groups claimed the tax was unconstitutionally vague and violated the Illinois Constitution's uniformity clause.

 

Cook County Circuit Judge Daniel Kubasiak stayed the tax while making a decision on the case, but ultimately ruled in favor of the county late last month, writing in his opinion that he had faith that grocers would figure out how to implement the tax and not run afoul of federal guidelines on the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, colloquially known as food stamps.

 

But Monday's motion from the business groups maintains that the grocers haven't been able to figure it out, pointing to the USDA's threats last week and the three large class actions filed.

 

"There will certainly be more lawsuits to come if a stay of the tax is not put in place during this appeal," the merchants association wrote. "These lawsuits do not even reach the other issue of harm from inability to obtain refunds."

 

In the suit filed against convenience store giant Walgreens, Illinois resident Vincent De Leon alleged the chain is indiscriminately charging the newly enacted tax on beverages like unsweetened tea and sparkling water, which are supposed to be exempt from the tax, costing him and other shoppers roughly 75 cents per six-pack they should not have been charged.

 

On Aug. 4, De Leon allegedly was charged the tax on a case of Dasani Tropical Pineapple Sparkling Water "which is clearly labeled 'unsweetened,'" according to his complaint.

 

On Tuesday, Republican members of the Illinois House of Representatives introduced a bill that would repeal the tax, though it's unlikely to go anywhere in the Democratically controlled Illinois Legislature.

 

"This pop tax is a repeated example of another financial burden being imposed upon the people of Cook County," Rep. Michael McAuliffe, R-Chicago, said in a statement Tuesday. "The vetting of this measure was short-sighted and irresponsible as roll-outs of similar pop taxes in other cities have proven to be not effective and even harmful to the local economy. I spent this past weekend in my district and the feedback against this tax was overwhelmingly negative. The taxpayers are understandably frustrated and there is a lot of confusion."

 

Representatives from the parties could not be reached for comment Tuesday.

 

The plaintiffs are represented by Marilyn Wethekam, Jordan Goodman and David Ruskin of Horwood Marcus & Berk Chartered.

 

Cook County is represented by Kimberly M. Foxx, Sisavanh Baker and James S. Beligratis of the Cook County State's Attorney's Office.

 

The case is Illinois Retail Merchants Association et al. v. The Cook County Department of Revenue et al., case number 2017L050596, in Cook County Circuit Court.

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