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Here’s Brunch, a pop-up, weekend email about the 2019 Legislative Session — 4.28.19

A brunch buffet’s worth of real-time reporting on the final twenty days of Session.

Ed. Note: This is the last edition of “Brunch” — we hope. By this time next week, the 2019 Legislative Session should be in the history books. If for some reason it’s not, we’ll pop-up one more time. In the meantime, look for a comprehensive list of ‘Winners & Losers’ next Sunday.

Thank you to our lead sponsor, Bascom Communications and Consulting.

Good morning, Appropriations Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings are still split on some spending issues.

But they both agree they’re on track for a timely finish. The message to the public: “We’re making great progress.”

The budget chiefs met Saturday afternoon to make offers on two spending silos. On Sunday, the plan is to meet “hopefully a good bit,” Cummings told reporters. We hear that the tentative plan is to save the conferences for after 1 p.m. — to account for any religious services.

Sadowski up: It’s shaping up to be a relatively good year for affordable housing. While lawmakers are still planning a sweep to the Sadowski Trust — the state affordable housing pool — it looks like the two chambers have agreed to spend $200 million for the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) program or programs like them.

The breakdown: The House and Senate have “closed out” on more than $77 million for SHIP and SAIL. Meanwhile, another $115 million would be spent on similar funds that would go directly toward the storm-battered Panhandle (the dollar figure is final, but the breakdown remains negotiable). Another $8 million would go to a Jacksonville housing initiative.

Sea change?: That’s how affordable housing advocates described Gov. Ron DeSantis’ recommendation to not sweep any funds from Sadowski, expected to hold more than $300 million. That didn’t happen, but more money will go toward affordable housing next year than in recent ones. “On affordable housing, we made a big jump compared to where we were last year,” Bradley said. “We did over $200 million for affordable housing, and I think last year we were just over $100 million.”

One other budget nugget worth noting is that both the House and Senate have fiscally accounted for a plan to start stashing money for three major highway projects pitched in Sen. Tom Lee’s infrastructure bill, which passed the Senate last week. It’s one of Senate President Bill Galvano’s top priorities.

‘Yes’: When asked if the $45 million General Revenue transfer to transportation trusts had been factored into budget talks, both Cummings and Bradley responded in the affirmative. That’s a good omen for the infrastructure bill’s chances in the House this week.

— FIRST IN BRUNCH: GOV. CLUB REFRESH — 

The Governors Club is getting a refresh.

The venerable Tallahassee social institution announced a capital campaign for a “complete renovation,” with a kickoff event set for May 15 at 5:30 p.m., offering “a sneak peek of the redesign.”

The venerable Governors Club is getting a makeover.

The “Interior Enhancement Project” is necessary, the club said in a letter to members, because “maintaining the facilities has become more challenging.”

— The Reno will “touch on all areas of the main Clubhouse, providing beautifully upgraded aesthetics and new furnishings,” it said.

— Bozeman Club & Corporate Interiors of Atlanta was chosen as the interior design team.

The 37-year-old club has long been a refuge for those in The Process, especially during committee weeks and legislative sessions.

— The club’s membership list is a secret, although it disclosed a couple of years ago that it had 1,050 members.

— The building, at 202-1/2 S. Adams St., was built in 1926 to be a Masonic Lodge, according to its website.

— After a time it became an Odd Fellows hall, and the Governors Club later took over the building. It opened in 1982, where it has been continuously operating since. The club was successful in extending its lease with the Odd Fellows through 2051, making membership secure for the next three decades.

The most recent Club construction project? The addition of the patio outside the front door, on the corner of College Avenue and Adams Street.

So how much will a total inside renovation cost, you wonder? Members will find out next month.

— LIVE OR LET DIE — 

House Speaker José Oliva signaled Friday he’s all right letting VISIT FLORIDA continue — for one year.

That’s only because Gov. DeSantis wants the agency reauthorized. That will allow the Governor to “make an assessment of his own on how unnecessary it is,” Oliva said. Uh, OK then.

Where’s the rescue party? Oliva’s not interested in full funding, and still has “strong feelings” about dissolving the agency.

— Meanwhile, at Crisis Central … Board members like Virginia Haley see “very tough decisions” ahead even if it gets the Senate’s $50 million budget next year.

DeSantis asked for $76 million. With marketing decisions in the next few weeks, Haley said the board must figure out the best spends.

— “What is it Visit Florida can do that nobody else can do?

As for Oliva, she’s happy he will entertain reauthorization but didn’t find his tone “super encouraging.” Ya think?

— BRUNCH ‘TOON — 

— MORE ON VISIT FLORIDA —

To revisit what we knew as of Friday: Funding for VISIT FLORIDA was “closed out” and won’t be revisited unless the main budget heads decide to.

The House didn’t move from its position of $19 million in funding for the beleaguered tourism marketing agency. The Senate gave in. That’s only enough to keep the lights on for a few more months.

Not that it matters: The House hasn’t taken up a Senate bill that would reauthorize the public-private organization past Oct. 1 of this year. Without that approval, VISIT FLORIDA “sunsets,” in Capitol parlance.

Defenders say the agency has made significant reforms since 2017, including heightened openness and contract accountability measures.

But that was after the House declared a virtual jihad against the agency for its lack of transparency and questionable spending, including a secret million-dollar promotional deal with rapper Pitbull. “Sexy Beaches” much?

Now, VISIT FLORIDA “is closed out, and it will be up to our budget chairs to determine if they want to open that back up,” Sen. Travis Hutson said.

— BETTER THAN DEAD — 

Health care “conferees” have come to an agreement about how much should be spent on hospitals.

Conferees agreed to redirect about $9 million from what the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida has dubbed the “critical care fund” and use it to increase the overall base Medicaid rate that is paid to hospitals.

Though the association still was reviewing the details of the agreement Friday, new SNHAF President Justin Senior acknowledged late Thursday night that, overall, the agreement was good news for his members.

The chambers agreed on hospital funding, but they weren’t able to agree on all funding decisions.

Conferees had to bump several unresolved issues to Senate Appropriations Chairman Bradley and House Appropriations Chairman Cummings — both Republicans from Fleming Island — including whether to give additional money to increase wages for direct-care staff in residential facilities.

The Senate wants to spend $41.7 million to increase the average wage from $9.50 an hour to $11 an hour. The House hasn’t funded the increase.

— CLOCK TICKING ON GAMING DEAL — 

Alpha-lobbyist Brian Ballard was sitting in the Capitol cafeteria Friday with a coterie of fellow influencers.

We were far enough away not to hear the whole conversation, but we could hear someone saying, “bzz bzz pari-mutuels, bzz bzz slots,” and so on.

Turns out there was a big meeting on Plaza level with DeSantis regarding a possible renewed “compact,” or revenue-sharing agreement, with the Seminole Tribe and other gambling matters.

Actually, the Governor had three meetings, all disclosed on his daily schedule (which, by the way, wasn’t released till after all the meetings had concluded).

At 9 a.m., DeSantis met with the Tribe; specifically, Chairman Marcellus Osceola, Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen, and Jim Shore, the Seminoles’ general counsel (with a hat tip to the News Service of Florida).

At 11 a.m., it was “gaming industry representatives,” and at 2 p.m. it was with “sporting industry representatives.” (Allowing the tracks to have sports betting run through the Tribe has been on the table.)

“Gaming industry representatives” means the pari-mutuels, or dog and horse tracks, some of which offer slots and card rooms. DeSantis was in the room for what one person called an hour-plus-long “listening session” with the ‘racino’ interests.

The sticking point has been the Tribe’s desire to deep-six designated player games, a hybrid of poker and blackjack that are lucrative for the tracks. The Tribe hates them they “play too much like blackjack,” which the Seminoles are supposed to have exclusive rights.

— “The Governor wanted to understand the issues better,” one person said. “It was very productive.”

Senate President Galvano told reporters later Friday he was encouraged by news of the meetings.

— “What it tells me is that the Governor is working in earnest to examine this issue and get the feedback so he can make an informed decision.

— “At the end of the day, it is up to him to make the agreement with the Seminole Tribe, but we have a role of ratification. What we undertook to do was to tee it up for him, so to speak. And so these things take time.”

— He had charged Sen. Wilton Simpson, the man who is set to succeed him as President for 2020-22, to reach out to the Seminoles and start a dialogue.

So do we have a deal? Nope.

Any movement is positive,” Galvano explained, “and I hope that would indicate to the Tribe, whose representatives have said that they would stop paying come the end of Session, that you know, maybe there is some really good faith going on right now between the Legislature and the executive branch and the Seminole Tribe. And if we can’t get there by the end of next week, let’s keep talking to at least keep our relationship.”

As another lobbyist put it, “What I can tell you is, there has been no sign of life from the Speaker’s Office on gaming this year. Everyone is still digesting things and wanting to get more input.”

OK, so could there be a deal by Sine Die? Answer: ¯\_(ツ)_/¯. “I will say (that) anything could happen between now and Friday,” the lobbyist said.

One scenario mentioned: Lawmakers come back in Special Session later this year to approve an overarching deal, including a new compact.

A worst-case scenario: We’re left with the status quo, and the Tribe decides to stop paying their millions every month.

— COMING IN FOR A LANDING —

Lawmakers tentatively agreed to finance flight for Gov. DeSantis.

Sen. Jeff Brandes confirmed Thursday night that the Legislature is shaping up to spend $3.8 million on staff, maintenance and a plane for the executive branch.

Brandes is a lead negotiator for the justice silo of the budget. He and Rep. Clay Yarborough, a Jacksonville Republican, have proposed budgets that would appropriate the plane money to FDLE for “executive aircraft purchase, debt service, operations and maintenance.”

“This is the third-largest state in the country,” Brandes said. “The Governor needs to be able to get around effectively and we think that this is right in line with where we should be, and it meets the Governor’s request.”

The aircraft line item is unlikely to change. And it’s as yet unclear whether DeSantis would use the money to purchase a plane outright or rent one.

— SUNDAY MORNING JOE —

Sen, Joe Gruters took on some heavy lifting for a freshman. In addition to chairing the Commerce and Tourism Committee, he also took on the so-called sanctuary cities ban, which never passed the Senate before. He felt bullish about its passage Friday.

Nothing says Sunday morning like a good cup of Joe (Gruters, that is).

— The significance in passing a Senate version: “It’s a really big deal we passed this bill. It’s a historic day for Florida and for the rule of law in Florida.”

— On Oliva saying he’s ‘not too enthusiastic’ on Senate version: “We still have some hurdles that we have to work through, but I think we can work them out. It’s still a big deal we passed this in the Senate.

— On that VISIT FLORIDA fight: “Visit Florida is so important to the future of this state. We need it to let the world know Florida is open for business. I am still fighting for full finding. We still have a tourism-driven economy.”

— A BOOZY TRAIN —

We dare you to think of something stranger than a ‘train’ bill on, of all things, booze. But one (HB 1219) was passed by the House this week.

The measure was a kitchen sink of proposals that have been bouncing around for years, including allowing wine to be sold in containers of more than 1 gallon, and repealing a requirement that diners consume a full meal before they can take home an opened bottle of wine (you may know it as “merlot to go.”)

It allows cider to be sold in growlers, a relatively new idea.

The bill also is a love letter to the state’s craft distilleries, allowing them to host public tastings, produce 175,000 more gallons of spirits per year and still be considered “craft,” and ship bottles out of state.

— But the language that got the most attention? The “cats in craft breweries” section. (To be fair, it includes dogs too.)

There were some caveats: Cats have to “under reasonable control at all times,” can’t be “on tables (or) bar tops” or where “food is stored or prepared,” and any “cat waste must be removed immediately.” We are not making this up.

We’ve seen people bring their pooches to tasting rooms (even though it’s not expressly legal, we guess) — but never cats.

So who asked for the cat language? We asked some craft brewers in the state; nobody owned up to it. And we couldn’t reach bill sponsor Anthony Sabatini for a comment.

Bottom line: It’s uncertain it will find favor the Senate this late in Session, but now we know there’s a move afoot to put tabbies in the taphouses.

— AND THE AWARD FOR BUSIEST SENATOR GOES TO … —

With only a week left in Session, it doesn’t take tarot cards to know how most issues will be resolved.

During an interview with Brunch, Sen. Brandes highlighted the victories and shortcomings of this year’s Legislative Session. He also told us what’s still on the table for the next five days.

The busiest Senator of the 2019 Legislative Session?

What’s to come: Brandes said to look out for how implementing language manifests for Amendment 4 and Amendment 11. One of the more controversial issues this Session has been enacting bills for Amendment 4, which voters passed last year restoring voting rights to certain felons. On Amendment 11, which in part repealed the state’s savings clause, lawmakers appear to be moving forward with a plan to tie any future retroactive sentencing measures to individual bills.

Any last-minute surprises?: “I think the budget is still in play; there’s always some last-minute surprises possible in that, but I don’t think there’s that many issues that will be surprising here.”

What’s up in the air?: “The big criminal justice package is still being negotiated,” Brandes said. “There’s still the PECO (capital improvement funds for schools) improvements coming. All of the local bills will come up in the last week.”

Budget winners and losers?: “I think students are the big winners,” Brandes said, pointing to the potential per-pupil increase this year. “On losers, it seems like many of the projects were funded at a lower level. For example, $500,000 projects were funded at $250,000.”

Other losers: Brandes said mastery-based education looks to be coming up short. “It’s really the future of education. I would rather get it implemented statewide sooner rather than later, but it’s still on the table.”

Local effects: “Vacation rentals also didn’t pass,” Brandes said. “That’s an issue that’s close to home. I think the condo fire safety bill is up for debate. For my condo residents, that’s a big debate.”

Anything to write home about?: The criminal justice reform crusader pointed to just that. “I think we’re going to have a significant win with criminal justice,” Brandes said. “We’ll get the research we want done. In the First Step Act, we had a conversation about moving to 65 percent [from 85 percent of the amount of a sentence an inmate must serve.] We found $860 billion savings over five years.”

On arming teachers: “That’s done. It simply allows local boards to decide. I feel like everyone who talks about local control got local control.”

— FOOD FIGHT SCORECARD —

The final week of Session is the equivalent of 2 p.m. at your favorite brunch spot — Sunday-funday ain’t over, but it’s getting to be that time.

Although many of the high-profile issues are settled, there remain a handful of food fights that may stay in play until the waiter starts conspicuously sweeping under the table, including:

— The House and Senate are millions apart on teacher bonuses and haven’t hammered out how they should be awarded, either. The House wants $269 million set aside for the “Best and Brightest” program, and it wants that cash doled out based on teacher ratings. The Senate is about $35 million behind and its plan would anchor the bonuses to school improvement scores. The House also wants $17 million in computer science funding, a priority of Gov. DeSantis. The Senate allocation: nil.

— There could be more changes in store for education funding, if the House gets its way. The chamber wants to change a formula that balances school district funding based on cost of living. The district cost differential is currently pegged to the consumer price index, but the House wants it to be based on local wages. The Senate is open to studying the idea, but budget chief Bradley said “any self-executing language or mandatory change” would be a no-go in 2019.

Rob Bradley says ‘no-go’ to any last-minute education legislation that is self-executing or enacts mandatory changes. Image via Phil Sears.

— The House and Senate health care budgets are starting to come closer, but one remaining battleground concerns direct-care staff pay. Those employees take care of physically or developmentally disabled group home residents and are paid about $9.50 an hour. The low wage has led to many direct-care workers quitting in favor of jobs in retail or fast food. If the Senate gets its way, direct-care workers will get a $1.50 an hour boost — that comes out to $42 million statewide. The House, so far, hasn’t budged.

— The Senate is set to vote on the House telehealth bill (HB 23), but it’s made some changes that could throw a wrench in the gears when it makes the return trip. An amendment by Sen. Gayle Harrell would make reimbursement from insurance to telehealth providers voluntary. That’s not what health care providers are looking for from a telehealth overhaul — if they can be paid a lesser rate or not be covered at all, it doesn’t exactly put them on even footing with in-person clinics.

— One change that didn’t make it into the telehealth bill: eye exams. Sen. Ed Hooper floated an amendment that would have blocked consumers from ordering prescription glasses and contacts online unless they got “a contemporaneous eye health examination,” meaning the purchase could be made but only after an in-person appointment with an optometrist. After consumer groups and other lawmakers cried foul, it didn’t take long for Hooper to withdraw the change.

— Environmentalists say lawmakers are shuffling their feet after getting a clear mandate from voters: fix water quality. Several bills to do so were filed this Session, but the only one that’s flowed through its committee stops is the House Water Quality Improvements bill. Environmentalists call it the “Dirty Water Act” and say it would only make things worse. Ag interests say it makes sure there’s no rollback on current protections. A proposed amendment by Rep. Erin Grall could assuage environmentalists’ concerns.

— The battle over condo fire sprinklers had been a slow burn for decades. After pushing back the dates for high-rise condo complexes to install fire sprinklers several times, they face a Jan. 1 deadline to get up to code unless lawmakers give them another extension. Two competing proposals would do that, but the one preferred by the Senate would require complexes to hit benchmarks on their way to completing the retrofit. The House plan would let complexes opt out of retrofits for good so long as their owners’ association agrees with a two-thirds vote.

— BRUNCHING WITH FISCHER —

Rep. Jason Fischer has enjoyed several successes this Session. This weekend, the Jacksonville Republican discussed some of them with Florida Politics.

Jason Fischer has had a pretty good Session. Image via Colin Hackley.

One accomplishment: A bill (HB 311) that promises to ramp up the state’s autonomous vehicle sector.

Future is now: “Autonomous vehicles will help people get to where they want to go quicker … will bring freedom and mobility to our blind and elderly communities, and AVs will save lives,” Fischer said. “Distracted driving, the leading cause of automobile accidents, will be a thing of the past and I think we can all be thankful for that!”

For the district itself, Fischer has helped secure an $8 million line item for an affordable housing project in Jacksonville’s Cathedral District.

Collaborative effort: Fischer said the project “came together because Team Jacksonville realized we had an affordable housing problem, and unlike the typical politicians out there we rolled up our sleeves, got together, and went to work. We have a strong team. I’m proud of our work.”

Indeed, Team Jacksonville is a disciplined unit. Fischer is as close an ally as anyone in the Duval Delegation to Mayor Lenny Curry.

What’s next?: Some have suggested that the Mandarin Republican may be a good candidate for Mayor in 2023. Fischer, if he believes that, isn’t showing his cards this far out. “I’m proud to represent Jacksonville, and I’m thankful to have a strong friendship with Mayor Curry. Right now I’m focused on finishing up session, and then afterward working toward re-election in 2020,” Fischer said.

This session has been a major one for Fischer’s priorities, which are those of the caucus at large.

In his own words: “We are cutting taxes. Just last night we passed a tax package to make sure we have both a hurricane preparedness and a back-to-school sales tax holiday. We are cracking down on sanctuary cities. And we are making sure that our firefighters are guaranteed cancer coverage because of the dangers of their job.”

— OUR FAVORITE BRUNCH COCKTAIL — 

While the Bloody Mary is the go-to cure after a night of overindulgence, the waning weeks of Session can make even the most abstemious of those involved in The Process feel hung over the next day.

The two basic ingredients are tomato juice and vodka. Beyond that it’s pretty much bartender’s choice for adding sweet and spicy to the mix, says Steven Dennis, bar manager at Il Lusso, whose bartenders lavish as much attention to creating cocktails as the chefs do to the downtown Tallahassee restaurant’s gourmet meals.

Kyle Reubenson and Steve Dennis invite you to pull a stool and enjoy a classic Bloody Mary at Il Lusso.

— “There are a thousand ways to do it,” he says. “One of my favorite things to do with Bloody Marys it to put either a couple of ounces of stout beer like Guinness. It mellows out the acid from the tomato that can sometimes upset people’s stomach.” Other additions include lemon or lime juice, spices like onion powder, garlic and celery salt, hot sauce, sriracha, horseradish, clam juice, olive brine, brown sugar, bitters, and beef broth. “Shake hard” and add your garnish, he advises.

Speaking of garnish, the latest fad includes the addition of foodstuffs, from bacon and smoked ribs all the way up to hamburgers and even an entire chicken. Shrimp is a good choice because the drink is reminiscent of cocktail sauce. “I like it kind of classic — lemons, limes, something pickled,” Dennis says. He favors a rim of Old Bay seasoning for fancying up the drink.

Bloody Marys are a great batch drink. When creating your own mix, he suggests you mix any spices that might float with Worcestershire sauce so it will incorporate better into the tomato juice. Let the mixture mellow for at least 24 hours before using it.

— Il Lusso will be upping its Bloody Mary game when the restaurant begins serving Saturday brunch on May 18. Chef George Baldwin is creating a tomato consommé base that will be translucent. “A labor of love,” is how Dennis puts it.

Other cocktails in the mix include housemade limoncello, a limoncello margarita, a pear-basil cocktail, an Italian 75, a rehydrator in alcoholic and nonalcoholic versions and the Agave Maria — made with cold-brew coffee, tequila, Tia Maria and chocolate mole bitters. For Mimosa crowd, they’ll be offering a DIY version featuring a magnum of prosecco with a variety of fresh juices.

The history of the Bloody Mary and how it got its name is contradictory, but most agree the advent of canned tomato juice and the introduction of vodka by Russians fleeing the revolution in the early 20th century led Bartender Ferdinand “Pete” Petiot to mix them at Harry’s New York Bar in Paris. Petiot would later hop the pond to the Regis Hotel in 1933, where he was a fixture at its King Cole Bar. Management considered the “bloody” part of the cocktail’s name off-putting, so it was renamed the Red Snapper.

Here’s the classic recipe:

The King Cole Bar ‘Red Snapper’
1 oz Stolichnaya vodka
2 oz tomato juice
1 dash lemon juice
2 dashes black pepper
2 dashes cayenne pepper
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
Garnish with a lemon wedge and celery stick.

— #BATTLEOFWINTERFELL —

From the Battle of the Blackwater to the Battle of Castle Black to the Battle of the Bastards, the promise of Game of Thrones is featuring some truly fantastic battle sequences.

But then again, the most epic fight — Season 8’s Battle of Winterfell — will be something entirely different: a clash between the living and the dead.

Who will survive the Battle of Winterfell?

And with that, the promise that tonight’s Episode 3 will be bigger and better than any battle that came before. Perhaps, the most ambitious battle sequence ever committed to film.

— As co-executive producer Bryan Cogman explained to Entertainment Weekly: “What we have asked the production team and crew to do this year truly has never been done in television or a movie. This final faceoff between the army of the dead and the army of the living is completely unprecedented and relentless and a mixture of genres even within the battle.”

— This won’t be just epic, the Battle of Winterfell will also feature the most extensive cast of GoT characters of the entire series.

So, what exactly will happen?

— Last week’s episode appeared to set up the death of many beloved characters, leaving GoT fans both dreading and excitedly anticipating the upcoming melee.

— It also seemed many in Episode 2, women, children and non-fighters (like Varys and Tyrion) are holed up in Winterfell to avoid the coming apocalypse. However, with the White Walkers’ ability to rise from the dead, no one there can be particularly safe — given that they are hiding in the crypts of long-dead Stark clan members.

— On the other side, Brienne, Jorah and Grey Worm — seasoned warriors each — are preparing for the ultimate battle.

— And lest we forget, Bran is hiding out in the godswood with Theon and the ironborn, in an attempt to lure the Night King into the open so Jon and Dany can rain dragonfire on him.

— Interestingly, since the Night King was not featured among the White Walkers approaching Winterfell in the closing moments of last week’s episode, some speculate he may not even take part in the battle.

No matter what takes place, the Battle of Winterfell will no doubt be a game changer in the GoT universe. And we will all be there to watch at 9 p.m. on HBO.

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Orlando Rising and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

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