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Scott Powers

David Simmons: We’re not done yet with HB 7069

Interparty, cross-house fighting over the controversial education omnibus bill House Bill 7069 is not yet over, nor are efforts to stop provisions that could spell death sentences to underperforming public schools, Republican state Sen. Dave Simmons vowed Wednesday.

And the bill might face a legal challenge led by state Sen. Gary Farmer, a Parkland Republican who has become the bill’s most outspoken critic.

At a panel discussion, with three Republican state representatives, held by the Seminole County Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday, Simmons sharply criticized the “Schools of Hope” provisions in HB 7069, which he voted against, saying it is setting up underperforming public schools and their students to fail completely.

Simmons was sharply countered by state Rep. Bob Cortes, also of Altamonte Springs, who argued that efforts have failed to save failing public schools, and now it is time to save the children, by providing the funding to charter schools to create alternatives.

On the last day of the regular session, a completely overhauled HB 7069 appeared and passed the House of Representatives 79-38, and the Senate 20-18. Gov. Rick Scott signed it last week in Orlando. Among other things — many of which he said he likes — Simmons decried the HB 7069 provisions he said creates a death penalty for public schools without giving them the resources to turn things around and creates a route for private charter schools to take over.

“I don’t think the book is completely written yet on this bill you’ve probably all read about, House Bill 7069,” Simmons said. “It was the amalgamation of at least 20 different subject matter issues that the house put into a bill. Various of us voted against it even though there were a lot of good things in it.”

After Wednesday’s panel discussion, Simmons said efforts are underway to still change the bill, including an effort by Farmer to research whether the bill could be challenged as a violation of the state’s single-subject rule.

Farmer’s office said Wednesday he was working on addressing the bill, but would not confirm or deny any specifics.

Simmons said if that does not happen, he and others opposed to the Schools of Hope provisions as written would take up the challenge of one of the bill’s principal engineers, Rep. Manny Diaz, and seek to fix it in the next session.

In particular, Simmons charged the Schools of Hope program’s provision that requires schools with consecutive Ds or Fs to be shut down, move all the students to other schools, or create a “district-operated” charter school, which essentially could not be run by the district.

What the underperforming schools need, Simmons advocated, is money for “wraparound” student services that address a wide variety of the students’ issues, to allow the students to concentrate on learning. At Simmons request, $25 million was inserted into HB 7069 for that, but he said that was not nearly enough, and the result still is a likely death sentence for too many schools.

“We need to treat the entire child. We need to make sure they’re not coming to school hungry. We need to make sure we can feed them when they’re there. We need to provide appropriate health services. We need community services, which have been found to be so successful,” Simmons said. “They cost extra money, these wraparound services, in fact, an additional $2,000 per student.

“I disagree with the idea of taking traditional public schools and having them address these issues without the resources before the hammer drops in two years,” Simmons said. “I know there are good things in that bill. It’s not the way to package it; it’s not the way to do it.”

Cortes, vice chairman of the House Education Committee, responded that such programs have been tried without success, and that it is time for Florida to try a bold new course. He said charter schools from other states demonstrated they could turn around underperforming schools to success.

“There are 115 failing schools in Florida; 115 failing schools! Not for one year, not for two, some of them five, some of them 12, even successive,” Cortes said. “By the way, the current turnaround option exists right now … It did not work. They still continued to be an F school.

“So the speaker’s plan is to try something innovative,” Cortes said, adding, “The end goal is there should be no student in the state of Florida stuck in a failing school.”

The debate primarily involved Simmons and Cortez, while state Reps. Jason Brodeur of Sanford and Scott Plakon of Altamonte Springs looked on or discussed other legislative matters. At one point following Simmons’ and Cortes’s exchanges on HB 7069, the moderator turned to Brodeur and invited him to comment.

“Let’s talk about weed!” Brodeur replied.

He was, of course, referring to the medical marijuana implementation bill he helped write.

Orange County keeps landscapers out of nitrogen fertilizer ban

Orange County’s landscaping companies with certified trained technicians will still be able to apply nitrogen fertilizers during the rainy season – now – but with some stricter rules and tougher penalties.

The Orange County Commission updated its fertilizer laws Tuesday evening after a long public hearing that pitted environmental activists who wanted a full rainy season ban and the lawn care industry that wanted to keep their freedom to use their professional expertise.

The result is an ordinance that meets state requirements set last year under the Florida Springs and Aquifer Protection Act of 2016 without being as tough as Seminole County but with being tougher than many.

Seminole County, Orange County’s neighbor to the north, won over environmental activists with some of the toughest rules in the state with its new ordinance and much of the conversation Tuesday in Orange was whether they should apply in Orange as well.

They won’t. Orange County has had a ban on non-commercial application of nitrogen fertilizers from June 1 to Sept. 30 since 2009. The end result of that battle Tuesday keeps that ban in place, but also keeps in place an exemption that may unique to Florida, anyone who’s taken and passed a county course on fertilizer application to minimize runoff.

Mac Carroway, executive director of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation, which works with golf courses, lawn care companies and others in the industry, argued against any ban at all, but especially against professional companies.

“The summer blackouts [in local ordinances] are based on a rainy season mythology, and not on scientific evidence,” Carroway said.

Yet most others agreed that fertilizer runoff, particularly including phosphorus, which already is banned unless soil sample tests show it’s deficient, but also including nitrogen, is a leading cause for much of Florida’s water woes, from dying natural springs to massive algae blooms off the Treasure Coast.

“A better requirement would be to ban fertilizers all together during the rainy season,” implored Jane Durocher, Middle Basin advocacy director for the St. Johns Riverkeeper Office. “Every reduction of nutrients that can go into the water is a step in the right direction.”

The ordinance approved Tuesday came with the assumption, pushed by the lawn care industry, that professionals know what they are doing, and if they take care of the landscaping properly, they can actually reduce runoff by assuring healthy root systems. Leave professionals alone, was their message.

Mayor Teresa Jacobs and virtually all of the other commissioners agreed that the county needs to and would do a better job of informing the public about the fertilizer laws most know little or nothing about.

Only Commissioner Emily Bonilla argued forcefully to extend the rainy season ban to everyone, as many of the activists urged.

Yet the commissioners through in a handful of amendments to send the message that they want to get serious. One of those messages was a pledge written into the ordinance that they would revisit the ordinance in two years, once more research was complete.

Homeowners who get caught violating fertilizer ordinances, by applying nitrogen during the rainy season, for example, would get one warning and then fines of $50 and $100 for subsequent offenses. Certified commercial applicators would get one warning followed by fines of $500 and $1,000.

Four Republicans, one Democrat qualify to run in HD 44 special election

With the noon closing bell on ballot qualifying, House District 44 is left with four Republicans and one Democrat qualifying for a special election that could determine far more than who represents western Orange County in the Florida Legislature.

The Republican primary election will be Aug. 15. The general election will be Oct. 10.

This is an election Republicans want to win because the seat is an ideal launching pad for a bid to become speaker of the House of Representatives in the middle of the next decade.

And it’s an election Democrats want to win because they view the peculiarities of a special election as an opportunity for an upset, to grab a long-held Republican seat by turning out voters in what will otherwise likely be a sparse voter turnout.

“The thing is with a low turnout it doesn’t take a whole lot of effort to move the needle,” said Orange County Democratic Chairman Wes Hodge.

That would be an upset, given the Republicans’ 5 percent advantage in voter registration for the district, and Republicans higher reliability for voting in any election, particularly for special elections.

“It’s pretty red, especially for special elections. It’s a really safe district; we don’t anticipate any difficulties with it, honestly,” said Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver.

The Republicans who qualified are former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski, who ran in a similar region last year in an unsuccessful, but close, bid for Orange County commissioner; John Newstreet, president and chief executive officer of the Kissimmmee/Osceola County Chamber of Commerce; businessman Bruno Portigliatti, and urgent care physician Dr. Usha Jain.

Businessman Paul Chandler is the Democrats’ candidate.

Republicans may be looking ahead from this election. If a Republican wins, it’ll give that person a year’s head-start on campaigning, fundraising, and collecting IOUs for the prospect of becoming speaker of the house for the freshmen class of representatives who’ll new voted into office in 2018. None of the candidates likes to talk about that prospect now, but Oliver said the seat is ripe for it.

“Plus, if they are successful in this election, they probably won’t have to watch their back, because it’s a really safe seat, and that’s the formula. It helps especially if you’re coming from a safe seat. You have the luxury of being able to travel around the state to help out others,” Oliver said.

This seat is open because Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle resigned to accept a gubernatorial appointment to Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeals.

Name recognition may be a stronger advantage than usual for the GOP primary because there are just eight weeks for the Republicans to introduce themselves and their messages to voters. For that Olszewski stands with the advantage, having run twice for Winter Garden commission, and last year for Orange County commission, for which he survived a four-person runoff, and then lost the general election, drawing 46 percent of the vote.

His challengers sound unconcerned about that. Newstreet raised $30,000 in in 11 days after announcing his candidacy in late May. It is unclear what other candidates have raised, because the first filing deadline for the race is not until next month. Newstreet volunteered his number. Olszewski had raised about $20,000 prior to May.

Newstreet believes he can convince voters that his background with the chamber gives him economic chops, his background with the U.S. Coast Guard gives him military service, and his background leading the American Legion in Florida adds to that. “We’re going to hit every eligible voter that has a history of voting. That’s a huge universe in a small timeframe,” he said.

Portigliatti intends to offer his successful business executive experience with several companies in Central Florida including Excellence Senior Living, a developer of luxury assisted living facilities for seniors, and Florida Christian University. What sets me apart the most is my real world business world experience… I’m not your typical politician. I’m not the status quote. I’m not a political insider.”

Democrats intend to rally behind Chandler, seeking an opportunity to sneak him in, in a district that has large Republican, Democratic and independent voters.

“The nice thing for us is it’s the only thing going on in Orange County. There are a lot of people willing to get involved to make sure everyone’s voice is heard, and who are interested to be a part of it,” Hodge said.

The Democrats also might make Eisnaugle a campaign issue. Democrats charged cronyism when Gov. Rick Scott selected him, over several sitting judges, for the opening on the Appeals Court, when Eisnaugle had very little courtroom or appellate law experience compared with other candidates.

“It’s sending a message. We can ask our voters: why are we even having this special election? Do we want to continue to send representatives up that participate in this or send a message that we don’t tolerate that here,” Hodge said.

Chris King brings home his ‘progressive entrepreneur’ campaign message

Democratic gubernatorial candidate and affordable housing developer Chris King pitches this scenario to Democratic crowds hungry for a rare statewide victory, and a blue governor’s office for the first time in 20 years:

“If you can imagine the gubernatorial debate of 2018, late October, we have a Republican, and we have a Democrat. And the time always comes where the Republican looks at the Democrat and says to the state of Florida, ‘You can’t trust this Democrat.’ Right? ‘This is a tax-and-spend liberal. They can’t create jobs. They can’t build businesses. They will ride this economy dead!’ It happens every time!” King, of Winter Park, said before a gathering of about 200 Democrats at the Orange County party’s monthly executive committee meeting Monday night.

“If I’m your nominee, I will be able to say in that moment, with the whole state watching, ‘On the contrary: not this Democrat! This Democrat created successful businesses, created jobs, delivered profit to investors, served customers. And this Democrat did all of that while honoring his progressive values,'” King continued.

“And then I’ll be able to look at the Republican in that moment, and say, ‘Mr. [Adam] Putnam, or Mr. [Richard] Corcoran, or Mr. [Jack] Latvala,’ or whoever comes out on top, ‘It was your party that rode this economy down, that created an affordable housing crisis. It was your party that said no to Medicaid expansion. It was your party that steered this party to the back of the pack,'” King continued. “And I will ask for the wheel back, and I will take it back, in 2018.”

And with that presentation, King, who built a fortune with development companies he insists he and his brother built from scratch, sought to distance himself from both his Democratic challengers, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, as well as the Republicans.

It’s a continuation of the “progressive entrepreneur” theme King initiated when he kicked off his campaign in Orlando two months ago. King criticizes Florida Republicans for overseeing a drop in inflation-adjusted wages and benefits, or doing nothing about it, and for, he said, leading Florida to place at the bottom of the nation’s 10 most populous states in per-capita income, productivity, gross domestic product, and mental health care services.

He pledges an economic program that would focus on minimum wage increases; steering capital to “home-grown” small businesses, rather than offering financial incentives to, as he said, set up low-wage satellite offices in Florida; creating workforce training institutes in community colleges; and using the state’s affordable housing trust fund for affordable housing.

King also ran through his commitments to all the rest of the state Democrats’ principal platform planks, including re-instilling respect and support for public schools and teachers; seeking health care for all, including accepting Medicaid expansion money; pushing adoption of the Florida Comprehensive Workforce Act, banning discrimination against the LGBTQ community; and staunchly supporting environmental protections and the development of solar and other alternative energies, including his pledge to take no campaign money from the sugar industry.

Yet while the environmental pledges may have drawn the loudest ovation, King’s “progressive entrepreneur” was the centerpiece of his campaign, and of his speech Monday night. He said it is based on his own business practices and philosophy, which he said provides living wages, full health care paid for by the company, and bonuses, for every employee, while the companies are “heavily philanthropic.”

“You can be a progressive, and believe in equality, and opportunity, and fairness, and justice, and care for the neediest among us. You can also marry that to entrepreneurship, to integrity, and hard work, and discipline, and stewartship. When those things are brought together, I’ve found in business it was a magical formula,” King said. “In government, it can be a game-changer for the Democratic Party.”

Democrat Nuren Haider withdrawing from HD 44 special election

Days after filing as a candidate, Democrat Nuren Haider said Monday evening she is pulling out of a run for the Florida House District 44 seat up for a special election this summer in Orange County.

The qualifying deadline is Tuesday at noon, and Haider said Monday that she has decided to not qualify.

She is vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee, and ran last year for the Orange County Commission in a district very similar in location to HD 44, finishing third in a run-off election.

“I will continue to work hard and fight for the constituents in my area and all of Florida to make sure that we focus on education, healthcare, a livable minimum wage, the environment, our safety and much more,” Haider stated in a text to OrlandoRising.com.

Her departure leaves the door open to Democrat Paul Chandler, a Lake Buena Vista small business owner, to seek the Democratic nomination without a primary, assuming he qualifies Tuesday morning.

That is provided no one else files Tuesday morning.

Republicans have four candidates who have qualified for an Aug. 15 primary, Kissimmee chamber of commerce chief John Newstreet, businessman Bruno Portigliatti, Winter Garden businessman Bobby Olszewski, and Dr. Usha Jain.

They all seek to succeed Republican former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who resigned to accept a judicial appointment.

Fourth Republican, Bruno Portigliatti, qualifies for HD 44 special election

Orlando businessman Bruno Portigliatti qualified for the ballot Monday for the upcoming special election in Florida’s House District 44, giving the Republicans four qualified candidates for the Aug. 15 primary.

Portigliatti,  of Orlando, is chief executive officer of Excellence Senior Living, a developer of luxury assisted living facilities for seniors, and executive vice president of Florida Christian University, a global online university. He also helps manage real estate enterprises for his family’s Portigliatti Group LLC.

He joins Kissimmee chamber of commerce chief John Newstreet, former Winter Garden Commissioner Bobby Olszewski, and emergency and urgent care physician Dr. Usha Jain as having qualified for the Republican primary ballot. The other three qualified by petition earlier this month.

Qualification closes at noon Tuesday for the special election, set to replace former state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, who resigned to take a judicial appointment.

Two Democrats have filed to run, but through the end of business Monday, neither had been listed as qualified for the ballot yet by Florida Division of Elections. They are Paul Chandler, a Lake Buena Vista businessman; and Nuren Durre Haider, vice chair of the Orange County Democratic Executive Committee.

And neither party’s primary race may be closed yet; rumors of additional interested potential candidates have leaders in both parties watching and holding their breaths.

The general election will be Oct. 10. The winner gets to serve one year, and would run again in 2018 if wishing to remain in office.

Peter Vivaldi calls on Donald Trump to give Puerto Rico as much attention as Cuba

A Puerto Rican activist in Central Florida is calling on President Donald Trump to give as much attention to Puerto Rico as he is giving to Cuba.

Peter Vivaldi, a Republican who has unsuccessfully run for Congress and the Florida Senate and who is a frequent organizer of bipartisan efforts in Central Florida to address Puerto Rico, has penned an open letter to Trump urging the president to join the call for statehood.

“It is extremely difficult to believe that in 2017, a nation like ours is still willing to oppress American citizens in Puerto Rico with the colony status,” Vivaldi wrote.

“On June 11, 2017, over half a million Puerto Ricans on the island voted. Ninety-seven percent of the voters overwhelmingly voted to become the 51st state,” he continued. “They want to experience the freedoms and liberty afforded to every other American.”

Vivaldi acknowledged he was writing for himself but expressed confidence he was passing along the views of the overwhelmingly-dominant “silent majority” of islanders and the estimated 5 million Puerto Ricans who, like him, live stateside. That includes a number of Puerto Ricans who live in Florida estimated to have surpassed 1 million last year, and which Vivaldi put at 1.2 million in his letter.

“When I saw what was going on Friday, I thought, ‘Oh, this is so cool,” Vivaldi said of the uniting of Cuban-American community there with national policy.

“This needs to get the same attention. That is so much needed, especially after 120 years,” he said. “That is the goal.”

Central Florida is the epicenter of Florida’s Puerto Rico diaspora, and Vivaldi is among the most outspoken of local leaders. Last week he joined a group that included fellow Republicans Anthony Suarez and state Rep. Bob Cortes, and Democrats state Sen. Victor Torres and state Rep. John Cortes and others in calling for Congress to take up and approve statehood for the island. Central Florida’s Democratic congressional delegation, including U.S. Reps. Darren Soto, who is of Puerto Rican descent, and Stephanie Murphy also have called for Congress to act.

Vivaldi noted that Trump visited the Little Havana community in south Florida with Cuban-American U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio last week, and that he had discussed Cuba’s situation with Rubio over dinner.

Puerto Rico’s turn, Vivaldi suggested. He offered to have a cup of coffee with the president to talk about the Puerto Rico situation, for the 3.5 million people still living on the island.

“I am hoping that over a cup of coffee we can discuss you you can help not only the 3.5 million Americans on the island, but also the over 5 million who live in our great nation,” wrote Vivaldi, a lifelong stateside resident.

“I am one voice in a silent majority that believes Congress must act on behalf of Puerto Rican American patriots. After 100 years of ambiguity, we want to become full-fledged stakeholders in the American dream.

“I ask you to consider my request as millions of Puerto Ricans, on and off the island, await your support as the president of the colony of Puerto Rico, U.S.A. Your task to ‘Make American Great Again’ is no different than our wish to become the 51st state.”

Democrat Pam Keith launches her bid against Brian Mast in CD 18

Democrat Pam Keith has made official her bid to run in Florida’s 18th Congressional District, launching her bid against incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast.

Keith, a labor lawyer and former U.S. Navy judge advocate general who ran last year for the Democrat’s U.S. Senate nomination, is seeking to make Mast vulnerable on his vote this spring on the American Health Care Act.

“It’s shocking to watch Brian Mast vote to rip healthcare away from 60,000 parents, children and veterans in his district,” Keith said in a news release announcing her candidacy. “That’s essentially every person in Indiantown, Stuart, and Fort Pierce all losing their coverage.”

Keith, of Palm Beach Gardens, cited independent analysts for estimating that the Republican health care bill would remove coverage from 63,300 constituents in CD 18.

She also accused Mast of voting for legislation that could reduce environmental protections, and vowed she would push to protect the Treasure Coast’s drinking water and clean water economy.

“Congressman Mast votes for pollution in our drinking water instead of protecting our rivers and beaches. He’ll do whatever Trump and the Republicans ask even if it’s wrong for our community,” Keith stated “Voters deserve someone with enough experience to understand the system, and enough courage not to be cowed by it.”

Last year Keith ran a low-budget campaign that positioned her largely as an afterthought in what was viewed as a two-person race for the Democrats’ U.S. Senate nomination, between then-U.S. Reps. Patrick Murphy and Alan Grayson. Murphy won the primary in landslide fashion. Keith, who said she put 117,000 miles on her car traveling the state, drew 16 percent, just behind Grayson’s 18 percent.

Gwen Graham picks up Nan Rich’s endorsement

As Florida Democrats gather for their Leadership Blue conference, gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham has grabbed the endorsement of the former Democratic Senate minority leader who for many appeared to be the heart of the party during her failed 2014 run for governor.

Nan Rich, now a Broward County commissioner, has extended her endorsement to Graham, who faces Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King for the Democratic nomination in 2018.

“Gwen Graham has the integrity and ideas, the leadership qualities and real-life experiences to end the Republicans’ nearly two-decade hold on the governor’s office and put Florida on a progressive path forward,” Rich stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign.

“Gwen is the only Democrat for governor who has run against a Republican and won. Gwen is the only candidate for governor who has worked on the front lines of our public school system. She has been an advocate for women and children — and while in Congress she returned more than $2.5 million to seniors, veterans and families. Gwen is the only candidate for governor with a vision and actual plans to protect our environment and build an economy that works for everyone,” Rich added. “I’m thankful Gwen is carrying on her family’s tradition of public service, and like her parents, she truly cares about Florida and doing the right thing for Floridians.”

Rich served four years in the Florida House and eight years in the state Senate. Her 2014 bid for the Democrats’ nomination never gained traction against former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist who had switched parties, yet she hung in through the primary, intent on pushing Democratic policies.

“Nan Rich has spent her career in public service fighting for our shared progressive values and for Florida families,” Graham stated in the release. “I’m honored to have her support, and, as governor, I look forward to working work with Senator Rich to reverse the damage nearly two decades of one-party rule in Tallahassee has done to our state.”

Florida’s unemployment dips to 10-year low of 4.3 percent

Florida’s unemployment rate dipped to a nearly 10-year low of 4.3 percent with the addition of 21,900 new private sector jobs in March, Gov. Rick Scott announced Friday in Orlando.

While visiting the DusoBox plant, a 62-year-old, family-owned company which recently added 20 jobs to its high-tech corrugated box manufacturing and marketing plant in Orlando, Scott said that the May unemployment number is the lowest since August, 2007.

He also touted the state’s annual private-sector job growth rate of 3 percent, which has exceeded the national average for 62 months running.

The Orlando market once again led the state in job growth in May, and reduced its unemployment rate to 3.6 percent.

Scott used the opportunity to promote his newly-funded “Florida Jobs Growth Grant Fund,” established and funded last week in the Florida Legislature’s Special Session, after the Legislature had previously sought to gut his previous business incentives money program, through Enterprise Florida.

“I am proud that we were able to establish the $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund during the recent special session. This flexible, transparent economic development program will promote public infrastructure and individual job training in order to encourage more businesses to grow and invest in our state,” Scott stated in an accompanying news release.

Scott also credited his past tax policies for DusoBox’s new plant, and for the expansions of other manufacturing facilities.

“One thing we did about four years ago and made permanent last year is we got rid of the sales tax on machinery and equipment so we could get more manufacturing jobs,” Scott said. “This state had not been growing manufacturing jobs when I got elected in 2010, and now we’re one of the leading states for manufacturing jobs in the entire country.”

As of May, Florida’s unemployment rate dropped 6.4 percentage points since December 2010, while the national rate declined by only 5 percentage points in the same time period, officials reported.

“This is all happening while our labor force continues to grow faster than the nation’s. Currently we’re growing at nearly five times the national rate,” said Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “We’re also seeing the impacts of the focus we’ve had on diversifying our economy to create manufacturing jobs.  In ten of the last 12 months Florida has led the nation in manufacturing jobs.”

According to the report issued by Proctor’s Department of Economic Opportunity, the top growth areas for jobs in the past 12 months are professional and business services, adding 52,900 new jobs; leisure and hospitality, adding 34,900; education and health services, 34,400, construction, 31,000, and trade, transportation and utilities, 30,900.

Florida job postings showed 255,858 openings in May 2017., while Florida’s 24 regional workforce boards reported 28,671 Floridians, including 1,551 veterans, were placed in jobs.

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