Ben Albritton Archives - Florida Politics

Ross Spano garners endorsement of 7 House Republicans for AG bid

Eastern Hillsborough County Rep. Ross Spano entered the Republican attorney general’s race later than his three other opponents; now he is attempting to catch up in creating a buzz around his candidacy.

The Dover Republican announced Thursday endorsements from seven of his GOP colleagues with whom he serves in the Florida House: Larry Ahern from Seminole; Ben Albritton from Bartow; Danny Burgess from Zephyrhills; Chris Latvala from Clearwater; Kathleen Peters from St. Petersburg and Charlie Stone from Ocala.

“I’m humbled and honored to have this support from my colleagues in the Florida House; earning their endorsements validates my decision to seek this critical office for our state,” said Spano. “I look forward to building on this base of support over the next several months as I share my vision and commitment to the office of Florida’s Attorney General.”

“Having held key criminal justice and judicial leadership roles in the House of Representatives, Ross Spano knows what it takes to protect our most vulnerable citizens and apply the law justly, ” said Peters. “His integrity and experience are unmatched; coupled with his fervor for upholding our state’s constitution, Florida will be in great hands with Ross Spano as our next Attorney General.”

“I know first hand how hard Ross Spano works for the people he represents,” said Latvala. “He is a true conservative and a man of impeccable integrity. He will be a great Attorney General.”

Spano, an attorney, has served in the House since 2012. Two of the three other Republicans in the race — Frank White and Jay Fant, also serve in the House, while the third candidate — former judge Ashley Moody — hails from Hillsborough County, same as Spano.

All three raised in the range of $1 million each to begin 2018 in their campaigns and related political committees. Spano had $59,860 as of the end of November, the last filing period.

Joe Negron backs aid for agriculture industry

Florida lawmakers should provide financial help to the agriculture industry to aid its recovery from Hurricane Irma, the Senate president said Friday.

Without putting a price tag on the state’s contribution, Senate President Joe Negron appeared to favor tax cuts and mitigation measures rather than loans. He pointed to major damage sustained by citrus growers but also said assistance should go to other parts of the agriculture industry.

“I do think the effect of the hurricane was so catastrophic to the citrus industry that it merits the government, the state government, partnering with the industry to make sure that they can continue to thrive,” Negron said during an interview with The News Service of Florida.

Negron said Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is slated to become the next Senate president, and Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Denise Grimsley, a Sebring Republican, are expected to work on the issue.

Some lawmakers have already started to advance their own hurricane-recovery proposals for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.

The state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services in early October released an estimate that the agriculture industry had sustained $2.5 billion in damage from Hurricane Irma, with $761 million in citrus-industry losses.

But many lawmakers think the losses will be much higher than the October projection.

Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is a citrus grower, has outlined several proposed tax exemptions for the industry as part of recommendations submitted to the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

Albritton’s proposals include tax exemptions for material used to repair or replace damaged fences and structures and for fuel used to transport crops during an emergency. He also called for a reduction in the tangible personal property tax for farm equipment affected by the storm.

Meanwhile, Port Charlotte Republican Rep. Michael Grant has suggested a tax exemption for the purchase of generators used on farms.

Negron said he doesn’t anticipate that hurricane-relief spending will displace other legislative priorities in the upcoming 60-day Session.

“I still think there will be room for environmental priorities, educational priorities,” Negron said. “I don’t think the hurricane spending will necessarily mean that there are other things that simply can’t be done.”

Gov. Rick Scott has asked for $21 million to help citrus growers as part of his budget requests for the 2018 Legislative Session.

Scott wants the money to include $10 million for citrus research, $4 million for marketing and $7 million for post-storm relief.

Irma made landfall Sept. 10 in the Keys and in Collier County before plowing up the state, including causing extensive damage in agricultural areas.

Along with the projected $761 million in citrus-industry losses, the October report from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services estimated nursery-industry losses from Irma at almost $624 million. The cattle industry damage assessment was $237.5 million, while the dairy industry was estimated to have $11.8 million in losses.

The sugar industry appeared to have $383 million in damage, with an estimated 534,324 acres affected. Vegetable and fruit growers — excluding citrus — were projected to have $180 million in damage, with an estimated 163,679 acres impacted by the storm.

The storm damages compounded misery for the citrus industry, which has struggled for a decade with citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture has projected that Florida’s citrus industry is on pace to grow 27 percent fewer oranges and 40 percent fewer grapefruit than in the past growing season.

State leaders, such as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, have been disappointed that Florida’s farmers and ranchers haven’t been addressed in a series of congressional disaster-relief package put together in response to Irma, Hurricane Harvey in Texas, Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico and California wildfires.

Focus areas doled out for hurricane committee

A select group of lawmakers will be focused on specific, hurricane-related policy recommendations over the next two weeks.

Each member of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness on Friday was assigned a specific area of focus. Chair Jeanette Nuñez, a Miami Republican, grouped the issues into categories following the five educational meetings held by the committee.

“To ensure that we cover all the issue areas, I am asking that you work with staff over the next two weeks to develop possible recommendations for the specific issue categories indicated below,” Nuñez wrote in an email to committee members.

Here are the assignments:

Evacuation: Reps. Robert Asencio, Michael Grant, and Holly Raschein. 

Energy: Reps. Tracie DavisDane Eagle, and Jay Trumbull

Shelters and Vulnerable Populations: Reps. Danny Burgess, Cord Byrd, and Sean Shaw

Health Care Facilities and Medical Care: Vice Chair Ray Rodrigues and Reps. Chris Sprowls and Richard Stark

Agriculture: Reps. Ben Albritton, Kristin Jacobs, and Elizabeth Porter

Future Hurricane Expenditures and Tax Relief: Reps. Grant, Jared Moskowitz, and Paul Renner

Housing: Reps. Bob Cortes, Davis, and Raschein

Beaches, Sanitary Sewers, Stormwater, Flooding, and Debris Removal: Reps. Eagle, Jacobs, and Cyndi Stevenson

Education: Reps. Asencio , Cortes, and Porter

The committee next convenes on Monday, Dec. 4.

Irma agriculture losses continue to mount

Florida’s $2.5 billion request for federal disaster relief for its agriculture industry after Hurricane Irma might not be enough.

Members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness said Thursday month-old damage estimates made by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services are too low.

“I actually think your numbers are conservative,” said Rep. Jared Moskowitz, a Coral Springs Democrat who called for a bipartisan letter to Congress supporting the emergency disaster relief that has been requested by Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “I think you’re probably looking at over $1 billion in damages to the citrus industry.”

In an estimate of damages on Oct. 4, the state department projected citrus losses at $761 million from the September storm, followed by the nursery industry at almost $624 million.

The cattle industry damage assessment was $237.5 million, while the dairy industry was estimated to have $11.8 million in losses.

The sugar industry appeared to have $383 million in damage, with an estimated 534,324 acres affected. Vegetable and fruit growers — excluding citrus — were projected to have $180 million in damage, with an estimated 163,679 acres impacted by the storm.

Grace Lovett, the department’s legislative affairs director, told the committee Thursday the $2.5 billion estimate included infrastructure, equipment and other items beyond crop damages. However, she noted that the department has noticed a number of trends, such as a slowdown in the movement of produce trucks.

“What they are seeing so far is staggering,” Lovett said. “September produce shipments from Florida were 76 percent lower than their average over the previous four years.”

Rep. Ben Albritton, a Wauchula Republican who is a citrus grower, said the numbers will grow because storm-damaged fruit continues drop from the trees.

“It’s like a disease in a way,” Albritton said, adding, Irma “beat it up so bad that the connection between the fruit and the stem is weakened.”

He added that growers who saw damages of more than 70 percent may find harvesting costs outweigh the return on sales.

Albritton said growers who have lost 80 to 90 percent of their crops essentially have a total loss.

“You can’t afford to harvest 10 or 15 percent,” he said.

Albritton suggested the committee, which is expected to roll out post-storm legislative proposals in December, consider state and local tax reductions for the industry.

Jim Handley, executive vice president of the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, suggested the state consider opening some of its publicly owned land for commercial cattle ranching to help the industry.

“I know of properties that could be grazed,” Handley said. “The land would be better off, and it would expand our footprint.”

A week ago, the U.S. Department of Agriculture reduced its Florida citrus-harvest forecast for the current growing season, projecting there will be 27 percent fewer oranges and 40 percent fewer grapefruit than during the past season.

Mike Sparks, executive vice president of Florida Citrus Mutual, said the industry, which has been struggling the past decade with citrus greening disease, had been hoping for a slight rebound in terms of production.

Before the storm, the industry was hoping for about 10 percent growth from the past season, which would still be nearly 40 percent off where the industry needs to be to ensure sustainability, Sparks said.

But the “optimism certainly came to an immediate end” with Irma, Sparks said. Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and raced up the state, caused heavy damage in major citrus-growing areas.

A series of hurricanes in 2004 and 2005 caused the industry to lose 44 percent of the crop.

“This damage is even worse,” Sparks said. “We had fruit not only blown off the trees, but trees in standing water for days.”

Scott has asked state lawmakers to include $21 million in the next budget to help citrus growers. Scott wants the money to include $10 million for citrus research, $4 million for marketing and $7 million for post-storm relief.

House hurricane committee mulls what went wrong during, after Irma

On Thursday, the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness heard about issues affecting Florida during Irma, including petroleum supplies and electric utilities.

This informational meeting set the table for the future of the committee, with no action items Thursday.

Wes Maul, the interim director of the Division of Emergency Management, addressed fuel shortages.

“Fuel was a challenge for us,” Maul said, in light of the national shortage from Hurricane Harvey, as well as ports shut down because of the approach of Irma.

Maul noted that, while he’s seen “potential solutions,” stakeholder conversations and such are pending — as is a third-party report that will synthesize a way forward.

State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson noted that St. Johns County (which she represents) has a “fuel depot” for first responders.

While Maul lacked the information as other counties having such, the division set up ad hoc fuel depots for first responders. He also did not know how many motorists were left stranded without fuel

The problem, as Gov. Rick Scott said before and after the storm, was one of distribution more than raw supply.

David Mica, executive director of the Florida Petroleum Council, noted that Florida consumes 29 million gallons of gasoline and diesel, which all arrive through 12 ports — with Port Everglades and Tampa among the top 10 in the United States, and “Jacksonville certainly critical as well.”

Mica noted that the FPC was “already in disaster mode” before the storm, requiring waivers so Florida refineries could meet needs in the state and beyond.

One issue even before Irma: Harvey was hammering the Gulf Coast, closing refineries in Texas and Louisiana.

Michael Rubin, of the Florida Ports Council, noted that the production didn’t ramp up on the Gulf Coast until early September, creating challenges as well. Tankers typically take two to five days to reach Florida from the Gulf.

“We had difficulty. We had less traffic after Hurricane Harvey. Then along came Hurricane Irma,” Rubin said.

Power was an issue for convenience stores, said Ned Bowman of the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association.

Also an issue — getting fuel to the “ancillary routes” off the interstates. Inventory swaps were vital in ensuring that gas stations on less traveled roads had fuel supplies.

Another issue: balancing employee safety at gas stations with the need to keep stations operational.

“Some of the first people to go back into the Keys,” Bowman said, were gas station workers — some having to stay in Daytona hotels during hurricanes.

Other issues were rumor control and communication with operators in the field, which helped to defray some of the wildest rumors, like the Turnpike being out of fuel.

Bowman said there were 2,100 stations with no fuel — a logistical challenge rather than the supply shortage itself. Far-flung outposts that weren’t close to major cities got the worst of that.

Fuel was one issue for those who evacuated, yet electricity was a more ongoing concern.

Public Service Commission Deputy Executive Director Mark Futrell discussed a generic docket the PSC has opened up to address issues stemming from Hurricane Irma.

“The commission’s going to cast a broad net,” Futtrell said, looking at issues like storm hardening efforts in bygone years, customer communications, and distribution and restoration times.

Florida Power and Light, servicing almost 10 million people in 35 counties, has 85 percent of customers living by the coastline.

Hardening efforts have been a priority for the last decade, said Bryan Olnick, the FPL VP of distribution operations.

“Smart devices,” said Olnick, helped with restoration timelines. Drones and smart meters were critical for FPL and other utilities, in determining which areas were restored.

“Hurricane Irma really was a challenge,” Olnick said, noting that it impacted all FPL service territories and that it spent 24 hours over land.

“The largest workforce in FPL history” was activated, Olnick said, pre-staging resources coupled with bringing in crews from as far away as eastern Canada.

In total, FPL’s workforce involved 28,000 personnel, 13,000 trucks and 29 massive operations hubs.

Olnick noted that more than 2 million customers had power back within the first 24 hours. Overall, the average FPL customer got their power back three days faster after Hurricane Irma, compared with Hurricane Wilma — despite Irma’s significantly higher destruction.

Why? “Hardening really works,” Olnick said.

In Wilma, 12,000 poles came down. In Irma, 2,500 came down — a “tribute to all the investments we made in hardening,” Olnick said.

Duke Energy territory covers 35 counties, said Jason Cutcliffe, director of Power Quality and reliability.

He told a similar tale about support from as far away as Colorado and Canada — an “army” of 12,500 shipped in, working 16 hour days to restore power.

Cutcliffe noted pole restoration was half that of 2004’s Hurricane Charley: 3,800 were brought down during that storm, 1,800 during Irma.

Utilities spent $2 billion on storm hardening since 2004.

TECO’s story, likewise, was similar.

Storm hardening expedited restoration timetables; combined with “solid execution,” the utility had all power restored within a week of the storm.

TECO’s PowerPoint offered much self-congratulation, noting that quick restoration and steady communication with customers created “an avalanche of ‘Thank You, TECO’ as online photos and videos took effect.”

Municipal utilities — 34 of them — had quick restoration compared to previous storms, with 80 percent of their customers restored within 48 hours of storm conditions abating in their area.

Despite these narratives, questions emerged from legislators.

Issues such as conversion of overhead lines to underground, and the cost-sharing structure thereof, will be talkers down the road.

FPL estimates that cost differences between underground and overhead are narrowing in residential areas, and a long-term project will be to do that.

Some darker notes could indicate where the committee could go in the future.

Stevenson noted that there could be better communication during storm events between utilities and counties, citing a lack of mutual understanding during the height of the storm.

Ben Albritton adds endorsement from former DeSoto County Sheriff

Republican Rep. Ben Albritton picked up an endorsement from former DeSoto County Sheriff Will Wise Monday for his campaign to take over the Senate District 26 seat currently held by Denise Grimsley, who is running for agriculture commissioner in 2018.

“Ben Albritton’s time in the Florida House has cemented his reputation as a fine public servant,” Wise said in a press release. “I spent my entire career working to keep our communities safe, and I know Ben understands how important it is to put resources behind law enforcement. I’m proud to support Ben because I know he will keep working hard in Tallahassee, but he won’t forget where he came from. He is a true conservative and a true servant leader.”

Wise was in law enforcement for more than 40 years, first as a deputy in the Highlands County Sheriff’s Office before joining the DeSoto County Sheriff’s Office in 1987. He retired as sheriff after the 2016 elections and was replaced by James Potter.

“I’m honored to have the support of a respected leader like Sheriff Wise,” said Albritton. “He worked hard for the citizens of DeSoto County, and that’s exactly what I intend to do in the Florida Senate. It means a lot to have folks like him on our team.”

Wise’s endorsement is the latest in a string of high-profile backers for Albritton’s senate campaign, including DeSoto County Commissioners Elton Langford, Buddy Mansfield and James Selph. U.S. Reps. Tom Rooney and Dennis Ross have also thrown their support behind the Wauchula Republican, who is currently serving his fourth term in the Florida House.

Albritton holds the District 56 seat in the House, which covers all of DeSoto and Hardee counties, as well as western Polk County, including Bartow.

Senate District 26 covers much of the same area, but tacks on all of Glades, Highlands and Okeechobee counties as well as a chunk of Charlotte County, including Punta Gorda, and a small strip of northeastern Lee County up to the outskirts of Fort Myers.

Grimsley is eligible for another term in the senate, but her run for Ag Commissioner gave Albritton the opportunity to make a Senate run without sitting out of the Legislature until Grimsley termed out.

Albritton is so far the only candidate running for the safe Republican seat and since filing in February he has raised about $54,000 for his campaign, with about $24,000 of that money on hand.

Denise Grimsley top fundraiser last month in Ag Commissioner race

September campaign finance numbers show Republican state Sen. Denise Grimsley continuing to outpace her competition in the race to take over for Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam in 2018.

Grimsley added $51,869 to her campaign account last month, and tacked on another $27,500 through her committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland.

The Sebring Republican has now passed the $1.8 million mark in total fundraising – $690,000 through the campaign and $1.1 million through the committee – and she has about $872,000 of that money on hand.

Spending clocked in at $34,092 for the campaign, leaving it with around $433,000 available, while her committee spent nearly all it brought in and finished out the month with about $439,000 in the bank.

Topping the donor roll last month was Ft. Lauderdale-based MCNA Health Care Holdings, which chipped in $25,000 to the committee. Johnson & Johnson gave the other $2,500 to Saving Florida’s Heartland, while another 94 contributions came in through the campaign.

Five of those campaign checks were for $3,000, the maximum campaign contribution for governor and Cabinet seats.

The expense reports for last month include $14,000 paid to Tallahassee-based Empire Strategies, which took home $7,000 from each account for management consulting. Florida Finance Strategies, also based in the capital, picked up $7,500 for consulting work, followed by Ryan Smith, who banked $5,821 for data services, printing, postage and shipping costs.

The District 26 senator is still eligible for another term, but decided to forego a 2018 re-election bid and run for the Cabinet seat instead. Republican Rep. Ben Albritton is the so far the only filer and the odds-on favorite to take over Grimsley’s Senate seat.

Though she couldn’t fathom running for Agriculture Commissioner a year ago, Grimsley’s solid fundraising has positioned her well among her competition for the seat, which includes Rep. Matt Caldwell, former Rep. Baxter Troutman and Paul Paulson in the Republican Primary, as well as Democrat David Walker.

With $2.5 million in his campaign account, Troutman is still in first place when it comes to cash on hand. He’s raised $34,590 for his bid, including $8,950 in September. He has another $51,000 on hand in his committee, iGrow PC, which showed no contributions last month.

Caldwell, who is terms out in HD 79 in 2018, comes in third with total fundraising measuring in at $1.25 million through his campaign and committee, Friends of Matt Caldwell. September saw the accounts take in $10,275 and $5,000, respectively.

Paulson, an Orlando businessman and former lawyer, has also seeded his campaign with plenty of his own cash – nearly $393,000 to date – but brought in the least of the GOP candidates last month with $123.

He is also in last place among the four Republican candidates in both total fundraising and cash on hand. Through September he had raised $652,000 total and has $436,000 in the bank, loans included.

Walker, who filed in mid-August, raised $750 last month. He has about $5,000 on hand after factoring in the $9,500 he put into his campaign in August.

Ben Albritton endorsed by three DeSoto commissioners

Three DeSoto County commissioners endorsed state Rep. Ben Albritton, who is looking to move out of the House and into the Senate in 2018.

Commissioners Elton Langford, Buddy Mansfield and Jim Selph announced they are backing the Wauchula Republican in a Tuesday news release put out by the campaign.

“Ben Albritton’s service in the Florida House has been characterized by hard work and conservative values,” Langford said. “He understands DeSoto County, and I’m confident he’s the right one to represent us in Tallahassee.”

Mansfield and Selph added that they believe Albritton would be a powerful advocate for DeSoto County in the Senate especially in the wake of Hurricane Irma, which crashed through the state earlier this month causing damage and power outages in almost all Florida counties.

“After Irma, it’s more important than ever that we have a dependable leader like Ben who will go to bat for DeSoto County in Tallahassee,” Selph said.

Langford represents District 4 on the DeSoto County Commission and was elected in 2006. Selph, elected in 2010, holds the District 2 seat while Mansfield was elected in 2008 and represents District 1.

Albritton said the three commissioners were “outstanding public servants.”

“I’m so grateful for their support and leadership, and I look forward to working with them to make sure the interests of the hardworking families of DeSoto County are well represented in the Florida Senate,” he said.

Albritton, who represents District 56, has been a member of the Florida House since 2010. Facing term limits, he has opted to run for the District 26 seat in the Senate which is currently held by Sen. Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

So far Albritton is the only candidate in the race, and through August he had raised $53,400 and had $26,300 of that money on hand.

SD 26 is largely similar to the pre-redistricting SD 21 and covers all of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties as well as parts of Charlotte, Lee and Polk counties.

There are roughly 27,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district, and that gulf was apparent last year, which was the first election since the seat was redrawn.

Grimsley won re-election without opposition in the primary or general elections, while President Donald Trump beat out Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton 49-46 on Election Day.

Lakeland mayor backs Ben Albritton’s state Senate bid

Republican Rep. Ben Albritton added an endorsement from Lakeland Mayor Howard Wiggs for his campaign to take over for exiting Sen. Denise Grimsley, who is running for Agriculture Commissioner.

“Ben Albritton has proven himself as a leader in the Legislature,” Wiggs said. “Without hesitation, I believe he will continue to represent our area effectively in the Senate.”

Wiggs has served more than 20 years as a Lakeland elected official, beginning with his 1992 election to the City Commission. The Polk County city is one of few population centers in SD 26, which sprawls across the whole of DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties, as well as southern Polk and eastern Charlotte counties.

Albritton said he was “honored” to have Wiggs’ backing, and that he is looking “forward to working with him to make sure our region’s concerns are a priority in Tallahassee.”

The Wauchula Republican would have faced term limits in the Florida House in the 2018 cycle, which makes Grimsley’s planned early exit from the Senate quite fortuitous for the Wauchula citrus grower. So far, he is the only candidate to declare for 2018.

At the end of July, Albritton had about $37,000 on hand in his campaign account and another $150,000 stashed away for his committee, “Advancing Florida Agriculture.”

There are about 27,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district and much like the pre-redistricting SD 21 seat it succeeds, Republicans dominate at the polls.

Ben Albritton earns endorsement from Bartow officials

Republican Rep. Ben Albritton’s 2018 Senate campaign touted endorsements from a pair of Bartow elected officials Thursday.

Bartow Mayor James Clements and City Commissioner Trish Pfeiffer said they are backing the HD 56 lawmaker for the SD 26 seat currently held by Republican Sen. Denise Grimsley, who is running for Ag. Commissioner.

“Ben Albritton has served in the Florida House with vision and integrity,” Clements said. “He’s been there for Bartow when we truly needed his support. I’m confident he’ll continue to deliver for us in the Florida Senate.”

Pfeiffer said it was important for voters to put their “faith in someone that has the moral and ethical heart that will represent us and not forget about our interests here at home.”

“I may not always agree with the eventual outcomes of the tough decisions that political leaders are charged with making, but a well informed, educated leader and a candidate that remembers where he came from and who he represents makes it an easy choice. That is why I am endorsing Ben Albritton for the Florida State Senate,” she said.

Albritton said he was “grateful for the support” from the local officials and added that he is looking forward to “working with them and other local leaders across District 26 to make sure issues of importance in their communities receive the attention they need and deserve in Tallahassee.”

Albritton would have faced term limits in the Florida House in the 2018 cycle, which makes Grimsley’s planned early exit from the Senate quite fortuitous for the Wauchula citrus grower. So far, he is the only candidate to declare for 2018.

SD 26 includes the area currently represented by Albritton in the House – DeSoto, Hardee and part of Polk – as well as the whole of Glades, Highlands and Okeechobee counties and a small section northwestern Lee County.

There are about 27,000 more registered Republicans than Democrats in the district and much like the pre-redistricting SD 21 seat it replaced, Republicans dominate the district at the polls.

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