Gov. J.B. Pritzker addresses a crowd of supporters Tuesday, Feb. 19, at a bill signing event for Senate Bill 1, which will increase the state’s minimum wage to $15 per hour over a six-year period. He is joined by advocates for the wage increase and Sen. Kim Lightford (D-Maywood) and Rep. Will Guzzardi (D-Chicago) the bill’s Senate and House sponsors. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)
By Capitol News Illinois staff
SPRINGFIELD – Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill to raise Illinois’ minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2025 on Tuesday, Feb. 19, in the Governor’s Mansion, declaring his first major legislative victory “a time to celebrate.”
“For nine years there were many forces that were arrayed against giving a raise to the people who work so hard to provide home care for seniors, childcare for toddlers, who wash dishes at the diner, and who farm our fields,” Pritzker said. “Today is a victory for the cause of economic justice.”
The signing represents a delivery on one of Pritzker’s major campaign promises a little more than one month into his tenure as governor – albeit without any support from Republican lawmakers.
Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly Lightford, a Maywood Democrat who ushered Senate Bill 1’s passage through the Senate, said Pritzker “got done in 30 days” what she has been trying to accomplish for 10 years.
“I’m so grateful that I’ve been able to just stay the course,” she said.
Lightford has sponsored several minimum wage increases since 2010, when Illinois’ minimum wage last saw an increase of 25 cents to the current rate of $8.25. If any of those bills had passed, the current minimum wage would be more than $10 hourly today.
A bill she sent to former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner in 2017 would have made the minimum wage $15 by 2022, but he vetoed the proposal.
Pritzker, Lightford and Illinois Restaurant Association President Sam Toia called the bill a compromise between business and labor interests, but Republicans blasted the effort in a news release shortly after the signing.
“This is only the beginning of J.B. Pritzker’s war on taxpayers and small business,” Illinois Republican Party Chairman Tim Schneider said in a statement. “Nearly doubling the minimum wage will destroy entry-level jobs, raise prices for consumers, and bust budgets at every level of government.”
The Illinois Retail Merchants Association and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association have openly criticized the fast-tracked passage of the bill as well.
The rollout of the increase will begin in January 2020, when the wage goes from $8.25 to $9.25 before hitting $10 on July 1. From 2021 to 2025, the wage will see a $1 bump every January until it levels off at $15.
The bill maintains a tip credit which allows employers to pay tipped workers 60 percent of the minimum wage if tips make up the other 40 percent.
A training wage for teen workers is also included in the bill, allowing employers to pay 50 cents to $2 less than the regular minimum wage over the six-year rollout to workers under 18 years of age who work fewer than 650 hours for an employer in a calendar year.
Small businesses with less than 50 full-time equivalent employees will also be able to take advantage of an income tax credit which allows employers to keep 25 percent of the increased money paid to minimum-wage workers from the previous year.
The 25 percent credit will decrease by 4 percent each year, leveling off at 5 percent for two years and extending an extra year for businesses with five or fewer full-time equivalent employees.
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Gov. J.B. Pritzker exits the House floor after his budget address Wednesday at the Capitol in Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Jerry Nowicki)
BUDGET ADDRESS: Gov. J.B. Pritzker made clear Wednesday, Feb. 20, that he believes solving the state’s long-term financial problems will require a new, graduated income tax structure that imposes higher taxes on upper-income Illinoisans.
But that would require a constitutional amendment, a lengthy process which, even if approved, would not make any new money available to the state until the 2021-2022 budget year.
So for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, Pritzker outlined a proposed $38.7 billion state budget that would increase spending on education, human services and public safety. But it also relies heavily on new revenues to pay for new expenses, and increased borrowing to pay down a backlog of past-due bills and future pension liabilities.
Speaking to a joint session of the General Assembly, the Democratic governor called his budget plan for the upcoming fiscal year “a bridge to a stable fiscal future” that would enable the state to begin crawling out of its financial hole while maintaining funding for critical public services.
But he also said restoring fiscal stability would take a number of years, reiterating his call for a graduated income tax to accomplish that.
“Make no bones about it, I choose to stand up for working families and will lead the charge to finally enact a fair tax system in Illinois,” Pritzker said.
As expected, Democratic leaders generally praised the governor’s proposal, while Republicans expressed skepticism.
“Amid the challenges we heard spelled out today, we also heard that we now have a governor who recognizes the magnitude of these challenges and will work with us to address them,” House Speaker Mike Madigan (D-Chicago) said in a statement. “House Democrats stand ready to work with Governor Pritzker and our Republican colleagues, bring all options to the table for honest negotiation, make the tough decisions, continue to stand strong and protect critical human services and quality schools, and move Illinois forward.”
Senate Republican Leader Bill Brady of Bloomington, on the other hand, called Pritzker’s plan, “a starting point for negotiations.”
“We heard a lot in his speech about more spending, more tax increases and concepts tried in the past” Brady said in a statement. “And while we as legislators now begin digging into the details, I have grave concerns about the pension plan and I remain opposed to a graduated income tax.”
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MORE OPPOSITION TO ABORTION BILL: Democratic Gov. J.B. Pritzker vowed to make Illinois “the most progressive state in the nation for access to reproductive health care,” and a conservative pro-life law firm based in Chicago agrees that will happen if Democratic-sponsored legislation becomes law.
The Thomas More Society released a 13-page report Friday, Feb. 22, outlining legal arguments detailing why the Reproductive Health Act, as the measure is named, would greatly expand access to reproductive health care beyond what Supreme Court precedent has dictated.
Peter Breen, vice president and senior counsel for the Society, said in a news release that should this legislation be successful, “Pritzker and his Democratic supermajorities would convert the ‘Land of Lincoln’ into the ‘Abortion Capital of America.’”
Breen is a former state representative from Lombard, and was the minority floor leader in the previous session.
According to the memo, the proposed legislation fully repeals current abortion law, including a “broad range” of constitutional statutes related to the procedure and other aspects of law not related to abortion at all.
The memo makes a few main points against the Reproductive Health Act. One issue raised by its author suggests that by removing a provision of current abortion law, the procedure would be legal for a woman to pursue throughout the length of her pregnancy for “any reason whatsoever.” The memo also suggests the possibility that self-abortion might become legal under this proposal.
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TAX OPPOSITION: Republicans in the Illinois House said Friday, Feb. 22, they are unanimously opposed to Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposal to overhaul the state’s income tax structure, a key element in his plan to close the state’s long-term budget imbalance.
Pritzker has called for a constitutional amendment that would allow the state to adopt a graduated income tax, which would levy higher tax rates on income earned above certain thresholds. Currently, Illinois levies a flat 4.95-percent tax on all taxable income.
House Minority Leader Jim Durkin (R-Western Springs) issued a statement Friday saying the GOP caucus would stand united against such a plan.
“Higher taxes won't solve our problems, nor have they ever as history has shown,” Durkin said. “Higher taxes only lead to more spending and more government programs. Until our state learns to live within its means, we should not ask for another penny from Illinois families, workers and businesses.”
Both the federal government and most states that have income taxes use a graduated system. But the Illinois Constitution requires that income taxes be levied at a “non-graduated rate.”
In his budget address to lawmakers Wednesday, Pritzker said a graduated tax would generate the revenue needed in future years to pay down the state’s unfunded pension obligations, pay off an $8 billion backlog of unpaid bills and continue funding critical state services.
A constitutional amendment requires passage by a three-fifths supermajority in both chambers of the General Assembly – 73 in the House and 36 in the Senate – followed by voter approval at a statewide general election. That means the soonest a measure could be placed on a ballot would be the November 2020 elections.
Democrats hold 74 seats in the House and 40 seats in the Senate.
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State Sens. Andy Manar (left) and Martin Sandoval will hold a series of public meetings around the state to gather input from local communities about their infrastructure needs as the committees they chair begin putting together a long-range, multi-billion-dollar capital improvements package for Illinois. Manar (D-Bunker Hill) and Sandoval (D-Cicero) held a news conference Thursday at the Capitol in Springfield. (Capitol News Illinois photo by Peter Hancock)
CAPITAL BILL: Illinois lawmakers were given a rude awakening on Thursday, Feb. 21, about the condition of the state’s roads and bridges as they began preparing to put together what is expected to be a multi-billion-dollar, long-term capital improvements plan.
Matt Magalis, acting secretary of the Illinois Department of Transportation, laid out just some of the numbers to a Senate panel that’s been tasked with putting together a plan.
“We currently have 79 million square feet of bridges requiring maintenance and updates,” he said. “That’s over 730 state bridges. We also have a need over the next 10 years of additional funding of $13-15 billion for our highways. That is just maintenance. We also have a need for capacity (highway expansion) that is in the billions of dollars.”
In addition to highways, Magalis said there is a long list of needed upgrades for other forms of transportation: $250 million in state funds for airports around the state, not including Chicago’s O’Hare and Midway airports; $19.1 billion for public transit; $800 million for passenger rail; and $4 billion for freight rail.
Also, Margalis said, locks and dams along the state’s waterways, which carry a significant volume of freight, are facing costs in the “hundreds of millions of dollars.”
Sen. Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill), who chairs one of the Senate’s two appropriations committees, conceded that the state will need to find new revenue to pay for any new bonds that are issued to fund another capital plan.
That could mean higher motor fuel taxes, higher sales taxes, or some other form of revenue.
Manar was joined at the news conference by Sen. Martin Sandoval (D-Cicero), who chairs the Senate Transportation Committee. He said Illinois might have to look beyond motor fuel and sales taxes and focus on other, more creative ways to finance a capital plan.
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LEGALIZING POT: Gov. J.B. Pritzker’s proposed budget for the 2020 fiscal year includes $170 million in new revenue from licensing fees for legalized recreational marijuana, but the details of such legislation are not yet finalized.
State Sen. Heather Steans and state Rep. Kelly Cassidy, both Chicago Democrats who have been working on marijuana legislation for two years, said they wouldn’t rush the process on behalf of revenue.
“Assuming that we want to have some revenue, I think we’d like to pass it by the end of May,” Steans said Thursday, Feb. 21. “But I think both Representative Cassidy and I have been very clear that the revenue is not what is motivating or should drive this legislation, but obviously it's a side benefit piece that can also come.”
Cassidy and Steans both said they are waiting for information from a demand study before moving legislation forward. They also want to ensure minority inclusion for vendors and social justice for persons incarcerated for cannabis crimes which no longer would be illegal under the bill.
Steans said she would hope to have language filed for a Senate bill “in the next month or so,” and both said they would like to see it passed by May 31, provided they can iron out the final details. Neither would speak to the governor’s $170 million revenue projection for the fiscal year.
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OPPOSITION TO ABORTION BILLS: Illinois’ Catholic leaders said Thursday, Feb. 21, proposed legislation pending in the General Assembly greatly expanding reproductive rights in the state treads on their First Amendment right to freedom of religion.
One of the measures, called the Reproductive Health Act, would repeal the Prairie State’s abortion law and replace it with language its Democratic sponsors call more up-to-date. Among other things, it would require private insurance companies to cover abortion procedures, repeal a ban on partial-birth abortions, and strike a requirement that only doctors perform the procedure.
The other measure would repeal the Parental Notification of Abortion Act, which requires a minor to consult with her parent or guardian before terminating a pregnancy.
Robert Gilligan, executive director of Catholic Conference of Illinois, said Thursday these measures are evidence the state is “headed on the wrong path.” The group represents Illinois’ six Catholic bishops.
“These bills taken together crowds us out. For people who have moral objections, they basically are saying we don’t have any rights,” Gilligan said. “That’s what’s going on, that people with First Amendment rights are being crowded out of protections under the law.”
By regulating private insurance companies to cover abortion procedures as they do birth control, for example, Gilligan said everyone who participates financially in that insurance plan is paying for such procedures with no ability to opt out.
The measure would also remove a law allowing medical professionals to decline to participate in abortion procedures, which he added raises other moral questions.
“It’s hard to come up with a word that really describes how bad this is,” Gilligan said. “I think it’s an assault on human dignity and it violates our concept of fairness.”
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SEX EDUCATION: Illinois schools might soon be teaching a new, fuller definition of what it means to give sexual consent.
“Teaching consent tells you that, ‘I have the right to have my own bodily autonomy, and somebody should respect that,’” said Brigid Leahy, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood of Illinois. “It’s not my fault when somebody violates my person without me agreeing to it.”
Language supporting this idea can be found in Chicago Democratic Rep. Ann Williams’ bill filed last week, which attempts to put a fuller definition of consent into the Illinois code detailing how schools must teach sex education.
Surrounded by a group of lawmakers and advocates including Leahy, Williams spoke about House Bill 3550 during a news conference Thursday, Feb. 21.
By law, public K-12 schools in Illinois don’t have to teach sex education. Those that choose to, however, must follow the state’s requirement that curriculum be “developmentally and age-appropriate,” “medically accurate,” “evidence-based” and “complete.”
Williams’ bill would add a requirement for schools that teach sex education, expanding the definition of consent from the brief treatment it was originally given – “[there must be] discussion on what constitutes sexual consent” – to a detailed list of what consent means, and how it might show up during a sexual encounter.
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NEW LEADER OF GOP HOUSE CAMPAIGN: Illinois Republicans suffered big losses in the 2018 elections, giving up seven House seats and handing a 74-44 supermajority to Democrats.
Now it’s up to state Rep. Tony McCombie (R-Savanna) to try and turn things around, and she has no illusions about how big of a task that will be.
“Huge. A huge task,” she said in an interview Thursday, Feb. 21.
McCombie’s colleagues this week unanimously elected her to chair the House Republican Organization, the political arm of the caucus that works, and raises money, to elect Republicans to the House.
“The goal is to provide political services to the 44 members we have and to grow our members so we can, one, bring balance to Illinois, and, two, hopefully to gain additional seats to gain the majority and put Leader (Jim) Durkin in the speaker’s seat,” McCombie said.
McCombie attributed her party’s losses in 2018 to a number of factors, including money and the fact that the Democratic candidate for governor, J.B. Pritzker, had a sophisticated operation. But she also said there were national trends working against Illinois Republicans, including President Donald Trump’s unpopularity in the state.
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CRIMINAL JUSTICE REFORMS: Two incarceration reform bills sponsored by state Sen. Robert Peters (D-Chicago) have passed out of committee.
The first removes a requirement forcing released inmates to pay for their incarceration, and the second provides incarceration alternatives for the mentally ill.
Current law requires recently released inmates to reimburse the Illinois Department of Corrections for any expenses incurred as a result of their incarceration. Peters’ Senate Bill 1158 would strike this from statute.
“It’s ridiculous that a provision like this even exists in the first place,” Peters said Thursday, Feb. 21. “These people already have a major burden placed on them by the criminal justice system. It’s unconscionable that there’s an additional financial burden placed on them once they’re finally released, and only makes a return to a life of crime more likely.”
The other measure, Senate Bill 1188, allows people charged with misdemeanors who are deemed unfit to stand trial to be transferred into special programs, pending eligibility screenings and the discretion of the court.
The bills await a full Senate vote.
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POW/MIA FLAGS: State Sen. Tom Cullerton, a Villa Park Democrat and Army veteran, advanced Senate Bill 1127 to require airports in Illinois to fly the POW/MIA flag.
State Sen. Dave Koehler (D-Peoria) said in a news release Thursday, Feb. 21, that the measure was inspired by Peoria-area veteran Gary Hall, who wanted the Peoria airport to fly the POW/MIA flag under the American flag. Airport officials said their hands were tied legally and would be unable to fly the flag.
“Honoring our veterans with public displays is crucial for younger generations to understand and remember their sacrifices,” Koehler said. “This legislation is just one small step we can take to show our veterans that we have not forgotten them.”
The bill moves to the full Senate for a vote.
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GUNS AT THE POLLS:State Sen. Ann Gillespie (D-Arlington Heights) has introduced Senate Bill 1242 to prohibit concealed carry weapons from polling places and their parking lots.
She said Texas, Florida, Louisiana and California have similar prohibitions on the books, and Georgia bars firearms within 150 feet of a polling station.
“In these times of intense political division, it’s understandable that people would be concerned about their safety at voting sites,” Gillespie said Thursday, Feb. 21. “Voters should leave their guns at home. It’s as simple as that.”
The bill has been assigned to the Senate’s Judiciary Committee.
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GUN LEGISLATION: Gov. J.B. Pritzker and some state lawmakers said Tuesday, Feb. 19, that last week’s mass shooting at an Aurora manufacturing plant will lead to efforts to tighten enforcement of the state’s gun laws.
Five people were killed Friday and several others were injured when 45-year-old Gary Martin went on a shooting rampage at the Henry Pratt Co. plant in Aurora after being told he was being fired.
Aurora Police Chief Kristen Ziman told reporters during a news conference Saturday that Martin was not legally eligible to own a gun. Although he had been issued a firearms owners’ identification card, known as a FOID, that permit was canceled after he applied for a concealed carry permit and a fingerprint search revealed he had a previous felony conviction in another state.
Still, neither state nor local authorities took any steps to confiscate Martin’s weapon.
Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Tuesday that his administration will push for legislation to tighten enforcement of the state’s gun laws.
“We need to make sure that we’re addressing that,” Pritzker said at a news conference following a bill-signing ceremony. “My entire team is focused on it and has been all weekend and through today, and we’re going to make sure to make proposals that will tighten the rules around revocation of FOID cards.”
State Sen. Julie Morrison (D-Deerfield) said in an interview that there are many circumstances under which a person can have their FOID card revoked, such as felony convictions and mental illness diagnoses, but that little effort is made to follow through and make sure those people turn in their cards, and their guns.
Morrison is the lead sponsor of a bill introduced earlier in the session, Senate Bill 1145, that would authorize the Department of Public Health to levy fines and other sanctions on public mental health facilities if they fail to report the names of patients who are diagnosed with disorders that disqualify them from owning guns, a problem that she said has been occurring in the court system when criminal defendants are sent for mental evaluation.
But she said that bill could easily be expanded to include additional kinds of enforcement mechanisms.
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MILEAGE TAX: A bill that would test a mileage tax for vehicles driving on state roads has been tabled, but that doesn’t mean it’s dead.
Chicago Democrat Marcus Evans last week filed House Bill 2864, establishing a pilot program for a 2.1-cent tax on every mile a vehicle is driven on state roads.
But Evans tabled the bill Tuesday, Feb. 19, saying he wanted to send the message that he’s not going to bring it back this session. “But if someone else wants to find a creative way to do that, then they can,” Evans said.
As cars become more efficient and more people drive electric vehicles, many states are facing a significant decline in revenue from motor fuel taxes.
These taxes usually support roads, bridges and other infrastructure for vehicular traffic. The purpose of a per-mile vehicle tax would be twofold: to bring back the revenue to support state infrastructure, and to balance taxes to ensure every driver pays a fair share for using roads.
That said, Evans doesn’t think it’s the right time to legislatively consider a per-mile tax, although Illinois, along with the 27 states that have increased their motor vehicle tax in the past four years, still needs more infrastructure funding.
"This bill needs so much work -- why have it out there?” Evans said. “Let’s just talk about the idea, and educate ourselves on what it is first. We can still have conversations, but not for bill purposes.”
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TOBACCO 21: Lawmakers and advocates have tried to hike the minimum age to purchase tobacco products in Illinois for three years, each time making the push first in the Senate. This session, advocates are trying a different approach.
“What we’re doing this time is running it through the House first, because we have more people to deal with,” House sponsor Camille Lilly, a Democrat from Chicago, said. “In the Senate, there’s only 56 people — there’s 118 in the House. It’s easy to get it through the Senate.”
During the previous session, both chambers approved the initiative but former Republican Gov. Bruce Rauner did not sign it. Only the Senate was able to muster enough votes to overturn his veto — it failed in the House.
Lilly’s version of the measure increasing the age to purchase products containing nicotine to 21 advanced out of committee Tuesday, Feb. 19, with only one dissenting vote. It won the approval of the chamber’s Health Care Availability & Access Committee by a vote of 5 to 1.
One Republican committee member, Tom Demmer from Dixon, voted in favor. His colleague, Thomas Bennett from Gibson City, voted no.
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TASK FORCE: With more in the works for the new session, 12 bills became law last year as a result of a yearlong investigation by the Senate Task Force on Sexual Discrimination and Harassment Awareness and Prevention.
“Task forces many times meet, and many times there isn’t a lot of actual legislation that comes out and is signed into law,” said Sen. Melinda Bush, a Grayslake Democrat who co-chaired the task force. “So we’re really proud of the work that has been done here.”
Surrounded by several other members of the task force, Bush and fellow co-chair Sen. Jil Tracy, a Quincy Republican, held a news conference Tuesday, Feb. 19, to discuss the task force’s newly-released report, and to detail some of the legislation that resulted from its investigation last year.
The outcomes included, among other things, legislation that requires lobbyists, legislators and state employees to receive harassment training; extends the statute of limitations for sexual conduct offenses; gives assault victims more rights at medical facilities; and requires taxing bodies to notify the public if an employee is fired for sexual harassment or discrimination.
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ILLINOIS JOINS FIGHT VS. TRUMP: Illinois Attorney General Kwame Raoul has joined 16 other state attorneys general in challenging President Donald Trump’s declaration of a national emergency on the U.S. southern border.
Led by California Attorney General Xavier Becerra, the attorneys argue that both Trump’s declaration and the subsequent diversion of funds for a border wall — only possible as a result of the declaration — are unconstitutional and unlawful.
“Diverting funds that have been appropriated by Congress is a violation of the U.S. Constitution,” Raoul said Monday, Feb. 18, in a news release. “My office joined this lawsuit because I am committed to fighting this abuse of power.”
Congress gave Trump only $1.375 billion for new border barriers last week, part of an agreement to avoid another government shutdown.
Trump, however, would divert more than $6.5 billion for a wall by redirecting federal dollars from other programs for drug trade interruption, military construction and law enforcement initiatives, according to a Monday New York Times article.
Raoul and the other attorneys general say this action exceeds the power of the executive office. They seek to block the declaration and the wall construction through a court injunction.
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MENTAL HEALTH FUNDING: An Illinois advocacy group is pushing legislation it says would bring $50 million in new money to state mental health services over the next four years.
According to the Illinois Coalition for Better Mental Health Care, more than 2.5 million Illinoisans have a mental health condition.
But the state ranks only 38th in the nation for mental health investment, while 82 of its 102 counties are designated as mental health professional shortage areas by the federal government.
Two lawmakers, Rep. Deb Conroy (D-Villa Park) and Sen. Heather Steans (D-Chicago), are sponsoring legislation – House Bill 2486 and Senate Bill 1673 – that would ramp up state mental health funding and change the funding structure to incentivize good results over flat service fees.
“Thousands of Illinois families … are victims of our mental health crisis,” Conroy, who heads the House Mental Health Committee, said Monday, Feb. 18, in a news release. “By creating a multiyear solution to reinvest and restructure our mental health programs with targeted, federally matched dollars, we can provide renewed hope to the millions affected.”
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