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NCAA Plans to Allow Athletes to Profit… With Restrictions

April 30th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Legislation awaiting the Governor’s signature would allow Student athletes to be paid for their image, but a final report by the NCAA on the topic doesn’t go as far as state lawmakers would like.

The bill passed in Florida earlier this year allows student athletes to enter into endorsement deals and profit off their name, image and likeness, so long as they aren’t directly paid by their schools.

“Dozens of sports, male and female athletes will be able to participate in the free market,” said House sponsor Chip LaMarca.

Representative LaMarca calls the 31 page final report put out by the NCAA an embarrassment.

“They basically said, here’s the free market, we’re just going to remove this part and this part and this part and you can play within the guidelines,” said LaMarca.

The report recommends prohibiting group licensing for things like video games and excluding shoe and apparel endorsements.

“Basically you can do basically social media, some other endorsements and advertisements, but nothing of real consequence.”

FSU Sports Management Professor Dr. Jason Pappas tells us the NCAA tried to strike a balance between allowing athletes to profit, while reducing recruitment advantages.

“They wanted to make it as equitable as possible for all institutions,” said Pappas.

LaMarca said the restrictions proposed by the NCAA are especially discouraging, given the current situation with the coronavirus pandemic.

“14 to 20 percent are experiencing homelessness. 20 to 40 percent are experiencing food insecurity. And they haven’t even relaxed these rules in the middle of a pandemic,” said LaMarca.

If signed into law, Florida’s legislation will take effect next July, in time for the Fall season.

The NCAA report also recommends action from Congress to preempt laws passed by states on the issue.

That would make things uniform across the country, but also undermine the spirit of Florida lawmakers proposal.

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Department of Health Says It’s Not Hiding Death Count

April 30th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

The State Department of Health is disputing a published report that claims it intervened to keep a tally of coronavirus deaths kept by Florida’s 22 medical examiners from being released publicly.

Deputy Secretary for Health Shamarial Roberson said all Coronavirus deaths are required by law to be reported.

She explained some confusion might have arisen because deaths are reported in the county of residence, not where someone may have died.

“And that death is reported by county. Any death outside of a county, for example, a medical examiner reports the death for a resident in Jacksonville and that medical examiner district is in a different district, the death will be reported to the person’s actual residence. That’s the process,” said Roberson.

On Wednesday, the Governor told reporters that if can often take days for a death to be fully reported, especially when the death was not in the county of residence.

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Unemployment Hits Two Million

April 29th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Applications for unemployment have hit the two million mark after more than 86,000 more people applied on Wednesday.

Many of the nearly quarter million who were denied payments may have been told no simply because of a quirk in state law.

The Department of Economic Opportunity is confirming that many of the 248,000 people whose claim was recently denied was simply because their claim was filed in March.

State law requires applicants to apply every quarter.

“That sounds a bit screwy to me. Curious why April fourth was chosen for you to reapply. Which is really really an inconvenience,” said state Senator Linda Stewart.

Unemployed IT tech Scott Read applied in early April.

He got a check late last week, but Scott’s wife wasn’t so lucky.

She was just denied.

“No explanation. Unfortunately that is the kind of ugly part. She was denied but no explanation why she was denied,” said Read.

In a letter to the Department, Senator Stewart is calling for every rejected claim to get a second look.

“Forty percent. No, they’re not getting the money in their pocket and they are being asked to wait longer and go through a system that you still can’t get on,” said Stewart.

Florida’s official unemployment rate is at 4.3 percent, but that’s based on mid March data.

Our calculations, show it’s closer to 11 percent.

State law requires the number of benefit weeks to increase from the 12 allowed after unemployment hits 5 percent, but because it’s based on a three month average it will likely be June before more weeks are added.

Long after many have lost their eligibility.

Once the three month unemployment average hits 10.5 percent, applicants are eligible for a total of 23 weeks of benefits.

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FSU Weighing Public Health Risk Before Setting Date for Graduation Ceremony

April 29th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Graduation is a special time for students and families.

It’s the final payoff for years of hard work, but for those graduating this spring, the coronavirus put all of that on hold.

“We were all super sad, but at the same time I understand the gravity of the situation and I don’t want people’s health at risk,” said Florida State University Senior Gabrielle Renauld.

FSU Senior Rebecca Caro is heading to work in Colorado after she has her diploma in hand.

The graduation delay means she likely won’t get to walk at all.

“I’m not sure that it’s particularly worth it for me to take the time and the money to just walk across a stage,” said Caro.

Many universities in Florida have set Summer or Fall dates to hold ceremonies for Spring graduates.

More than 3,200 have signed an online petition asking FSU to do the same.

The university has committed to holding a ceremony for Spring graduates, but the date remains uncertain.

“Before families book travel and book hotels and once again are disappointed, we want to make sure that we have a really solid date,” said Vice President of Student Affairs Amy Hecht.

The university’s main concern is the health and safety of students and their families.

Nine to 12,000 gather in the school’s civic center during a typical graduation.

Hecht tells us the university will look to health and government officials for the go ahead.

“It’s no surprise that students want that experience and we’re going to give it to them when it’s safe to do so,” said Hecht.

Still, students we spoke with said they’d like to have a date to look forward to.

“I think it’d be really helpful for graduating seniors like me that are making the move across the country and starting a new job to be able to start making those plans,” said Caro.

“A lot of other schools have already established a date you know like in August, so I think that it’s not unrealistic to try,” said Renauld.

The University is holding a virtual graduation for students this weekend.

While it isn’t ideal, the students we spoke with agreed it’s the right move in these unprecedented times.

In addition to the virtual ceremony FSU is also hosting virtual competitions and celebration activities for seniors throughout the week.

You can find the full schedule here.

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Florida Governor Takes Aim at China

April 28th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida is now pressuring China to pick up some of the costs of the Coronavirus pandemic because of their failure to contain the outbreak.

Missouri and Mississippi filed suit against China last week, blaming the country for the coronavirus outbreak.

Now Florida officials are considering their own actions.

“I saw that Missouri lawsuit. I want to see if Florida can be involved in that. You see what a disaster this has caused. It is because of their malevolence, so they had opportunities to deal with this. They didn’t do it. They covered it up,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

CFO Jimmy Patronis has already written the Chinese Ambassador, sending what he calls an official demand letter.

“We’re going to see losses in the state’s revenue that should cross the billion dollar mark,” said Patronis.

He may stop state payments to Chinese vendors doing business with the state.

We asked Patronis what’s in it for Florida.

“These are direct effects and losses to the state’s revenues due to a virus that did not originate inside the state of Florida, nor in the United States,” said Patronis.

While a long shot, a lawsuit could reduce the impact on state services that may need to be cut because of falling revenue.

In addition to lawsuits, the Florida Legislature may act the next time it meets.

One avenue could be to order the state to divest $4.6 billion the state pension fund has invested in Chinese companies.

The Governor is also pitching medical companies to relocate their Chinese production here.

“For gosh sakes, it you have lifesaving equipment that is being manufactured, do not manufacture it in China anymore. We need to bring this stuff back to the United States,” said DeSantis.

Some officials say consumers can fight back as well, by buying fewer products from China.

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Coronavirus, Mail Ballots, Felons Voting, Challenges for November Election

April 28th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

The coronavirus is putting a heavy strain on elections officials prior to the November general election.

With the prospect of a flood of vote by mail voters and a court case on felons rights that could add nearly a million new voters to the rolls, elections officials are hoping to extend certain deadlines to ensure every vote is counted.

In the past two general elections nearly three million Florida voters cast their ballot through the mail.

Elections officials are preparing for double that in November, due to the coronavirus.

“We don’t know what the future looks like. If we did, things would be simple,” said Tammy Jones, Levy County Supervisor of Elections.

Jones is also the President of the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections.

She tells us managing the anticipated influx will be difficult enough, but state Democrats are also asking the Governor to send all 13.7 million voters a mail ballot.

“It’s just simply not enough time to get those ballots out if we were to do it all vote by mail,” said Jones.

There’s also an ongoing federal trial regarding felons’ ability to vote if they can’t pay outstanding fines and fees.

Depending on how the judge ultimately rules, the total voting population in the state could be increase by as many as 775,000.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley, who has been intimately involved in the case tells us registering the additional voters wouldn’t necessarily be an issue, unless they have to jump through extra hoops to prove their eligible.

“That’s a multi-step process. One is getting a process in place. The second is, you know using that process to show that you cannot afford to pay your LFO’s (Legal Financial Obligations) and then that gets you registered,” said Earley.

Supervisors are also facing an anticipated lack of poll workers, potential closures and consolidations of polling locations and the task of ensuring adequate social distancing at polling places.

To reduce the additional strains, supervisors are hoping to extend the window to send out mail ballots and extend early voting.

But so far there’s no been word from the Governor.

“We need to know that now. It would have been to know some of it, you know two or three weeks ago,” said Earley.

If you do decide to vote by mail, you can make sure your vote will count by updating your signature on file now, and requesting and returning your ballot as soon as possible.

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Hemp Cultivation Licenses Now Available

April 27th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Hemp is a booming industry, but there’s one problem.

“All of the money has been leaving the State of Florida and going elsewhere,” said Gabe Suarez, owner of Natural Life, a Florida CBD chain.

Retailers of hemp products like Suarez don’t have any Florida product to carry.

“Every time one of my businesses purchases any kind of hemp, its purchasing it from a farm outside of the state,” said Suarez.

But soon that won’t be the case, with the Department of Agriculture accepting hemp cultivation applications as of Monday.

75 had already applied halfway through opening day.

“It only took people about 20 minutes to apply,” said Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried.

Fried anticipates the industry will grow exponentially.

“This could be a 20 to $30 billion industry here in the state, not only on the CBD production,” said Fried. “I mean we’re already doing types of research talking about different ways to use it for plastic replacements and styrofoam replacements.”

Many are hopeful hemp can provide a lifeline to Florida farmers who are destroying as much as 70 percent of their crops due to a lack of demand because of the coronavirus.

“Especially with so many in our agriculture community suffering. You know not only through COVID-19, but even beforehand,” said Fried.

Even if you don’t purchase hemp products yourself, the added revenue from the industry will help keep ‘Fresh from Florida’ produce on your shelves.

“This is an opportunity to create an alternative crop here for our state bring in some significant revenues,” said Fried.

And Fried tells us Florida grown hemp products will also be safer for Florida consumers.

“You’re getting what you’re anticipating. Making sure there’s no THC in there, making sure that there’s actually CBD in there, that there’s not metals involved or other types of chemicals that would be harmful to an individual,” said Fried.

The crop takes about four months to grow, so you can expect to see Florida grown product on retailers shelves by mid Summer or early Fall.

Hemp cultivation must take place on land zoned for agriculture or industrial purposes and applicants cannot have felony narcotics charges within the past ten years.

To apply for a license click here.

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Former Governor Silent on Unemployment Website Failures

April 27th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s unemployment system was back online Monday after three days offline to process claims and be upgraded.

Florida’s unemployment technology is now being called “a jalopy” or “clunker” by the current Governor

The system was never designed to manage the crush of applications it is seeing, but from the day the the system was turned on, it has had major problems.

It was a disaster when it launched in late 2013.

“We’re catching half of the calls more or less in week three. Is that correct?” Senator Ed Hooper asked Jennifer Bloom with Deloitte, the company that built the site back in 2013.

“That’s what’s depicted on the slide, yes sir,” Blume replied.

Back then, Deloitte told lawmakers the Rick Scott administration added 1,500 special requirements.

The company is now being sued by three unemployed Floridians who have waited weeks for a check.

“This system was designed to fail and we have a number of people over the course of this litigation that will come forward and testify to that under oath,” said Attorney Gautier Kitchen.

Governor Ron DeSantis, who inherited the system, agrees.

“It was designed with all these different things to basically fail, I think,” said DeSantis.

The system has routinely failed state audits going back to 2015.

The question we want to ask is why anybody would build a system to fail.

We called now US Senator Rick Scott’s office, but received no response.

Scott made headlines last week by criticizing a bill he voted for.

The lawyers behind the suit think taxpayers got bamboozled.

“They wanted the numbers down. They wanted it for a number of reasons. They wanted to bring corporate insurance down for unemployment claims. And there are people who are going to testify to this,” said Kitchen.

At $275 a week for just 12 weeks, Florida has some of the stingiest benefits in the country.

Limiting benefits to 12 weeks was also adopted under Scott’s leadership.

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Third Unemployment Protest in a Month Held in State Capitol

April 27th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda
For the third time in a month, a handful of cars with signs critical of the state’s unemployment system circled the DEO headquarters with horns blowing.
They circled the block three to four times, making their displeasure know.
At their last protest, several unemployed protestors were asking for retroactive payments dating back to the day they lost their job.
Last week, the state agreed to make payments retroactive to March 9th, or the day a someone was laid off.

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Unemployed File Lawsuit Seeking Payment

April 24th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Nearly three hundred thousand unemployment claims were filed this week in Florida, bringing the total to one point eight million since the middle or March. More than 5haklf a million of the seven hundred thousand verified claims remain unpaid, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, three who haven’t gotten their check are going to court. 

Two restaurant workers, one from Tallahassee, the other from Citrus County and and a laid off Panama City airline worker, are suing the state, seeking to force it to pay their unemployment claims. Gautier Kitchen is one of their lawyers.

“They aren’t lazy. They’ve been forced out of work, guaranteed a social safety net that they paid into over the years, that has failed” says Kitchen.

In the Citrus County case, the complaint says his initial claim was deleted then wrongfully denied. The two other cases are labeled pending says their other attorney, Marie Mattox.

“And our intent is to get them money as quickly as possible so they can go buy groceries, but their medicines.”

We took the question of deleted claims to the man in charge. Jonathan Satter. He told us “I’m not sure how that could have happened.” We followed up:  “No glitches in the system?” His reply: “Not that I am aware of.”

586 thousand claims had been verified Friday morning, but not yet paid.

“And these are the folks that are going to end up on the welfare line. They are the people who are standing right now in lines to get free food” says Attorney Mattox.

To speed up payments, the state shut down the Connect site  until 8 am Monday.

Although the web site is down, that doesn’t mean you  can’t file a claim over the weekend. The alternate site: floridajobs.org is working. But if you’ve already filed a claim, it does mean you won’t be able to ask any questions about it until Monday.

Other advice we got from the horses mouth. Online applications are processed faster than paper, and it once you make a call. Don’t hand up and call back. It puts you at the end of the line.

A second lawsuit filed today by the same attorneys was was against Deloitte, and of the contractors who built the system to the states specifications. It alleges the computer was never meant to be applicant friendly.

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Attorney General and Ag Commissioner Face Off Over Concealed Carry

April 23rd, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

A controversy is brewing in the state Capitol over concealed weapons permits.

Attorney General and Ag Commissioner Face Off Over Concealed Carry

A controversy is brewing in the state Capitol over concealed weapons permits. 

The Department of Agriculture closed its nine regional offices in mid March, eliminating one of three options for Concealed Carry applicants to be fingerprinted. 

COVID-19 has effectively closed the other two options for applicants to get fingerprinted, tax collectors, and law enforcement, which says fingerprinting, except for criminals, puts officers at too much risk because of the close contact. 

Now the Attorney General is warning her fellow Cabinet member, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, she might be facing a lawsuit.

“It concerned our office that these applications for concealed weapons licenses would be delayed,” said Attorney General Ashley Moody.

A similar suit was filed in Georgia.

“If Nikki Fried can read, she needs to read the law,” said NRA spokesperson Marion Hammer.

The NRA sent out an alert to its members, citing a specific Florida statute which does not give Fried the authority to suspend accepting applications or renewals. 

“They need to call the Governor, email the Governor, and ask the Governor to make Nikki Fried quit violating their rights,” said Hammer.

Fried is pushing back, arguing her offices have processed thousands of applications since March.

In her letter Commissioner Fried told the Attorney General that is she was concerned about applications, she should focus her attention on the unemployment situation.

We asked the Attorney General if Fried should be forced to reopen reopen her nine regional offices.

“It’s their responsibility. And It’s within their purview, and they need to complete that function and that responsibility, especially during this time of emergency,” said Moody.

Unclear is whether Fried, through her own executive order, has the authority to extend existing licenses for 90 days, which she did.

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Tourism Recovery Likely Far Away

April 23rd, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Three out of four Floridians told a Quinnipiac pollster the economy should stay closed until public health officials deem it safe to open.

Governor Ron DeSantis argues opening up doesn’t necessarily mean things will go back to normal.

“So much attention is being paid to, oh well the Governor of Colorado has announced this will open, the Governor of Georgia this or that. Yeah, you can announce those things, but are people going to have confidence in coming out or not?” said DeSantis.

National surveys show Americans will still be hesitant to travel even six months out.

In March, 87 percent of Americans had plans to travel within the next six months, now that number sits at just 72 percent.

More than half say if they do travel they aren’t getting on a plane.

Four out of ten say the same about staying in a hotel.

The numbers paint a bleak picture for the recovery of Florida tourism.

“This is the largest crisis the global tourism industry has ever faced,” said VISIT FLORIDA CEO Dana Young.

VISIT FLORIDA, the state’s tourism marketing agency, calculates between March 1st and April 11th, hotel revenues were down $1.6 billion in Florida compared to the same time last year.

Next month, scheduled domestic flight capacity is down 65 percent and international capacity nearly 80 percent.

However, the agency is seeing some positive signs.

Website traffic has recovered to where it was a month ago and the number of people accessing the site’s travel safety information page is significantly higher than previous disasters.

“This tells us that people want to know if it is safe to travel to Florida because the desire to visit our state still exists,” said Young.

The Governor remains hopeful some of Florida’s unique natural tourist attractions will be able to operate easily within social distancing guidelines.

“Some of the stuff that we offer, you know our parks, you know beaches, all that stuff. I think people are going to view that as positive,” said DeSantis.

Projections for the opening of large tourist attractions like theme parks vary.

Some analysts have suggested June opening dates, while others predict they’ll remain shuttered until the start of next year.

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Unemployment Improvements Too Slow for Many

April 22nd, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida is making progress paying unemployment claims, but the progress is slow.

When last week ended, just four percent of the claims had been paid.

The number is now just over 14 percent.

On the day after Jonathan Satter was named to take over the broken unemployment system, he told us problems had been identified and solutions were in the works.

“It’s gonna be a couple of days,” said Satter. “We’re hopeful.”

The Agency implemented a dashboard to track cases.

It shows that between Monday and Wednesday 167,000 new claims were filed, 25,000 were verified, and 23,000 processed.

Almost 68,000 were sent checks.

Oldsmar hospitality worker Jeremy Robles sent us his phone log, showing more than 100 calls on Tuesday alone.

“I’ve had my stuff pending since March 15th, and there is no to do list. Which is aggravating. Not knowing is worse than anything,” Robles.

In a Q &A Tuesday, the Governor called the system he inherited a “jalopy” and he told us improvements are being made, but some of the slowness is out of the state’s control.

“You have Federal databases that are being pinged, and guess what? Those are being stretched too. It’s very slow,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Between Monday and Wednesday, the state paid out just over $83 million.

That’s double what it paid out over the last 35 days.

But that doesn’t matter to Jeremy or the other 570,0000 whose claim has been verified but still haven’t gotten a check.

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Medical Community Asking Governor to Lift Elective Surgery Ban

April 22nd, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s doctors and hospitals are calling on the Governor to allow them to resume elective surgeries after seeing a consistent stabilization of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.

New cases have been consistently below the peak for the past 18 days and deaths of Florida residents have been below the peak for two weeks straight.

Governor Ron DeSantis said Tuesday, the projected collapse of the health care system didn’t play out.

“There was an article in March… that said this week, this week in April Florida could see 465,000 people hospitalized throughout the State of Florida. The reality? Slightly more than 2,000,” said DeSantis.

We asked the Florida Health Care Association if they agree with the Governor’s assessment.

“Yes that is correct. The data is starting to reflect very positive outcomes,” said Interim CEO Crystal Stickle.

Stickle told us while hospital capacity has held consistently around 50 percent, the ban on elective surgeries has had other health repercussions.

“Cancer surgeries that have been put on hold, cardiac procedures that have been put on hold,” said Stickle.

And financial ones.

“They do support hospitals financially. Many of our hospitals have taken significant financial hits,” said Stickle.

They’re asking the Governor to lift the ban as soon as possible.

The Governor said he agrees with the concerns of hospitals, but has so far not set a deadline for lifting the ban.

“People are going to get laid off and I think there’s going to be less financial viability for some of the healthcare outfits, which is very important,” said DeSantis. “We have a lot of this stuff in place until April 30th and then we’ll see what it looks like after that, but I haven’t set a specific date because I think it’s more important to do it right than necessarily try to have an artificial deadline.”

Florida Democrats have urged the Governor to greatly expand the state’s testing capabilities before considering re-opening the state.

The Governor has signaled he intends to beef up capacity state labs and announce a deal for high-through testing with a private lab this week.

If the ban is lifted, the Florida Hospital Association says it would fall on local governments to monitor new cases, available beds and access to PPE before allowing elective surgeries to continue.

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Long Term Care Groups Call on State to Fix Virus Reporting Errors

April 21st, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Following the Governor’s release of the names of nursing homes and assisted living facilities with confirmed coronavirus cases, groups representing the facilities are pointing out errors.

The move to release the names came as pressure mounted from the media and groups like AARP for access to the data.

“It will actually be a double security because all of these facilities are required to notify the families and required to notify the other residents and staff,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Jeff Johnson with AARP believes it was a step in the right direction.

“Giving them some peace of mind about what’s going on in the facility where their loved one is,” said Johnson.

But Kristen Knapp with the Florida Health Care Association told us they’re already seeing unintended consequences.

She gave us an example from a facility in the Panhandle with confirmed cases.

“Now the local daycare won’t care for the children of those staff,” said Knapp.

The state’s list includes more than 300 facilities, and it didn’t take long for groups to start finding errors.

“We saw about 20 that were on the list,” said Kanpp.

Knapp said the discrepancies have resulted in unwarranted criticism of numerous facilities.

“That causes anxiety for the family members who may feel like they were not properly informed. It causes anxiety for staff who are wondering why they didn’t know when in fact that information isn’t correct,” said Kanpp.

While nursing home and ALF groups are working to identify facilities incorrectly added to the list, there have also been some media reports of facilities with confirmed cases that have been excluded from the list.

Since the list was first released this past weekend some of the errors have been corrected, but facilities say it’s an ongoing process.

Johnson agrees there’s room for improvement.

“Either with the state adding additional information in its reporting or the facilities being more proactive and transparent,” said Johnson.

There are about 3,500 nursing homes and ALFs in the state, so as of now the vast majority remain coronavirus free.

You can find the most up to date list of facilities here.

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