Detroit Regional Chamber > Advocacy > May 5, 2023 | This Week in Government: Divided Votes Mark Senate Budget Bills

May 5, 2023 | This Week in Government: Divided Votes Mark Senate Budget Bills

May 4, 2023
Detroit Regional Chamber Presents This Week in Government, powered by Gongwer, Michigan's home for Policy and Politics news since 1906

Each week, the Detroit Regional Chamber’s Government Relations team, in partnership with Gongwer, provides members with a collection of timely updates from both local and state governments. Stay in the know on the latest legislation, policy priorities, and more.

Divided Votes Mark Senate Budget Bills as IE Question Looms

Senate Republicans continued Tuesday their trend this session of voting against budget bills in the Senate Appropriations Committee, prompting questions about whether they might provide the necessary votes to grant immediate effect on final passage when they come before the full chamber.

In the past, though it was more than 20 years ago, a Senate minority caucus in a government otherwise ruled by the other party generally would assent to immediate effect on the budget with little difficulty, provided there was at least some consideration of lower-profile priorities by the majority. The denial of immediate effect on the budget, under the usual schedule of sine die adjournment in late December, could have dire fiscal consequences because the state would lack the spending authority to operate at the start of the fiscal year on October 1.

Democrats could avoid that problem if Senate Republicans dig in and decline to provide the necessary six votes for immediate effect if they adjourned sine die no later than July 1, which would start the clock ticking for 90 days following the day of adjournment when bills would take effect to assure that’s before October 1. It would mean giving up half the session year, however.

When asked if there has been any discussion among Democrats to adjourn session early to provide immediate effect when the new fiscal year begins if Republicans were to refuse to supply the necessary votes, Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) told reporters, “I have not been privy to that.”

Anthony said her job is to get a finished budget product to the floor for final votes. She said the plan is to begin voting on budget bills on the Senate floor next week.

Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-North Muskegon), the minority vice chair of the committee, told reporters one reason members of his caucus have voted against the budget bills is what he called a lack of notice on proposed amendments set to come before the committee.

“We see the amendments five minutes before we get here,” Bumstead said. “You need to talk it over with your caucus members ahead of time.”

When asked whether Republicans might consider blocking immediate effect on budget bills if they are not more actively brought into the process, he said the GOP caucus has not really spoken about that possibility yet.

As to whether the Democrats might move to adjourn the Legislature early if Republicans do not want to provide the votes necessary to grant it immediate effect, Bumstead said that also has not been something his caucus has really discussed.

“I think that’d be bad policy long-term,” Bumstead said of Democrats if they were to make such a move.

Bumstead said he meets weekly with Anthony to go over the budget, adding there are items he agrees with and others he does not agree with in the budget thus far.

Their comments came amidst questions of whether the Republicans might withhold the six votes needed combined with the votes of all 20 Democrats in the chamber to grant immediate effect.

Anthony said it was interesting to see the no votes on each budget bill from Republicans on the panel. Each of the eight budget bills were reported on party-line 13-6 votes.

“There’s some of these very common-sense budget things that I think they’ve been fighting for that we will hopefully start to see some willingness to provide immediate effects and, hopefully, the entire budget would have bipartisan support,” Anthony said.

Overall, Bumstead said he believes work to complete the budget is on pace so far. He said it is likely a matter of experience level, with Democrats also leading on the budget process in the majority for the first time in many years.

“I think it’s just a learning curve for them,” Bumstead said.

Anthony said she believes there are many items in the budget, particularly in areas like education, that should gain bipartisan support.

“I don’t want to predict what will become a bargaining chip for our Republican colleagues, but I hope they can see beyond who introduced these bills and how they’re being crafted and see what’s best for Michiganders,” Anthony said.

During its Tuesday meeting, appropriators moved eight of the final 10 budget bills the committee plans to send to the full chamber. Each bill was reported 13-6 along party lines.

Three amendments were adopted for the K-12 budget (SB 173) before it was reported.

Sen. Darrin Camilleri (D-Brownstown Township) had an amendment adopted containing a set of technical changes in bill language, which he said were overlooked during the drafting of the bill.

Another amendment, proposed by Sen. Mallory McMorrow (D-Royal Oak), was also adopted. It would provide $1 million for teacher training programs for educators with students with dyslexia.

A final amendment introduced by Sen. Kristen McDonald Rivet (D-Bay City) would change the Great Start Readiness Program. She said it would create a new category under the program to allow the program to run for five days per week and for the entire school year.

The Camilleri and McDonald Rivet amendments were adopted 13-6 along party lines, and the McMorrow amendment 18-1.

A single amendment was adopted prior to reporting the general government budget (SB 189), introduced by Sen. Sue Shink (D-Northfield Township). Her amendment provides $194,500 for the Legislative Corrections Ombudsman and a $100 placeholder for Senate Census tracking/reapportionment. It was adopted 13-6 along party lines.

Sen. Sean McCann (D-Kalamazoo) had an amendment adopted for the higher education budget (SB 200) that would expand the allowable uses for the $141.3 million of one-time General Fund in information, technology, equipment, and maintenance (ITEM) grants provided in the Senate budget to include “repayment of debt.” The amendment was adopted 19-0.

Also reported Tuesday were the budgets for the Department of Transportation (SB 178), Department of Education (SB 186), the Department of Military and Veterans Affairs (SB 197), the Department of State Police (SB 198), and community colleges (SB 201).

On Wednesday, the panel will take up the final two budget bills: the Department of Health and Human Services (SB 190) and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (SB 194).

Changes to Distracted Driving Bills Gets Legislation Through House

A package of bills that would make it illegal for drivers to use electronic devices while operating a vehicle passed the House on Tuesday after failing to garner enough votes last week.

HB 4250, sponsored by Rep. Matt Koleszar (D-Plymouth), was put up on the board last Tuesday but was pulled when it became clear it would not have enough votes. Democratic leadership put the legislation back up for a vote this week with a floor amendment, and it passed 68-39.

“I’m encouraged,” Koleszar said. “We’re going to save a lot of lives in Michigan, which is the name of the business.”

Under the original bill, people would have had their license suspended after three infractions within a three-year time frame. The amendment changed the bill so that a driver’s license would not be suspended, but the person would be required to take a court-ordered driving improvement course.

The substitute also revised the fee structure to enforce heavier fines on commercial drivers and school bus drivers, which aligns the bill with federal standards.

“The big argument against the license suspension is that if this happen to somebody, not only is their license suspended, but if the rely on their car to get to work, it could cost them their job, and without their job, how are they going to pay the fines?” Koleszar said. “By having a driver’s education course instead, you’re actually helping to re-educate them, rather than forcing them in a position that could potentially lose their job.”

The amendment satisfied some Democrats and Republicans who had concerns with the bill.

“The reason that it passed was because we listened to concerns, and we incorporated those concerns. Both caucuses wanted to see the elimination of the driver’s license suspension piece, so that was a coming together between both parties to pass this legislation in a bipartisan way,” Koleszar said. “This creates a culture where people think twice about distracted driving.”

Last week, Democratic members indicated that there were civil rights concerns with the bill as it was written.

“The biggest thing they were concerned about was the punitive measure of suspension of license. When we changed that to education, that brought a lot of the members back on board,” Koleszar said. “In addition, they were really encouraged by the fact that we do have a study … we will get data that will show us exactly what this law, in practice, looks like.”

Jerry Ward, press secretary for Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township), said that while the amendments made some GOP caucus members more comfortable with the legislation, others still felt that careless driving laws already in existence made it unnecessary.

The House also passed HB 4251 and HB 4252 as part of the package.

HB 4251, sponsored by Rep. Tyrone Carter (D-Detroit), provides sentencing guidelines and was amended on the floor to align with HB 4250. It passed 66-41.

HB 4252, sponsored by Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), would require a record or report of violations of the new law to be forwarded to the secretary of state, also passed 68-39.

All the Democrats who voted against HB 4250 last week voted for it on Tuesday, except Rep. Emily Dievendorf (D-Lansing), who was the only Democrat to vote no.

On the Republican side, those voting yes were: Rep. Bob Bezotte Jr. (R-Howell), Rep. Ann Bollin (R-Brighton), Rep. Graham Filler (R-St. Johns), Rep. Phil Green (R-Watertown Township), Rep. Tom Kunse (R-Clare), Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport), Rep. Mike Mueller (R-Linden), Rep. Pat Outman (R-Six Lakes), Rep. John Roth (R-Interlochen), Rep. Bradley Slagh (R-Zeeland), Rep. Alicia St. Germaine (R-Harrison Township), Rep. Mark Tisdel (R-Rochester Hills), Rep. Curt VanderWall (R-Ludington) and Rep. Greg VanWoerkom (R-Norton Shores).

Koleszar said he was optimistic that the bill would be passed and given immediate effect in the Senate to be in place prior to Memorial Day, which begins the period during which most fatal crashes related to distracted driving occur.

“I’m sure there’s still work to be done,” he said. “This is a nonpartisan issue. We all are on the roads … I’m really hoping we get immediate effect, get this done, and save lives all summer.”

GOP Has Concerns With Dems’ Coal Phaseout, Renewable Standards

Officials see the proposed phasing out of coal and 100% renewable goals outlined in legislation offered by Senate Democrats as a reasonable proposal, yet there are some concerns about its viability and the effect it could have on economic development and grid reliability.

Sen. Dan Lauwers (R-Brockway), the minority vice-chair of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee, told Gongwer News Service in an interview last week he supports an all-of-the-above approach to energy policy. He said it is laudable to have a goal to work from, but he can see there being numerous difficulties in achieving what is being proposed.

“I think it’s a case of a very noble and lofty goal, but faces a very physically impossible timeline,” Lauwers said.

His comments were in response to the legislative package introduced by Senate Democrats, including phasing out coal-fired power plants in the state by 2030 and having a 100% renewable energy standard by 2035 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 12, 2023).

Consumers Energy Company has a goal of ending its use of coal by 2025 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2040, while DTE Energy Company is seeking carbon neutrality by 2050.

Lauwers said when he asked utilities and industry officials about the need for storage capacity to ensure a smoothly operating grid with all renewable energy, he was told the need would be for a minimum of two weeks’ storage. Optimally, storage would be four weeks’ worth of battery storage.

Current battery technology can hold about four hours’ worth of electricity before needing to be recharged, he said.

By running the numbers, he said it would take a massive amount of battery storage to provide grid reliability. Siting would also be an enormous hurdle, he added.

The senator said from his conversations with utilities and local municipalities, they appear to be on track to their individual goals for renewable energy production. He referenced the Lansing Board of Water and Light’s goals of having half of its energy being produced through renewable sources by 2030 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. He said they are just one example of industry already being ahead of schedule in meeting their goals.

Electricity costs are largely socialized in Michigan, Lauwers said, saying strict mandates could lead to increases in power costs for customers, hurting those with lower incomes who are least able to pay those costs. He questioned whether those costs for low-income customers would need to be subsidized.

Lauwers also pointed to the large electric vehicle battery plants the governor’s administration has been pursuing through state incentives packages.

“As long as Michigan’s a manufacturing state, having competitively priced power is very important,” Lauwers said, adding that strict mandates leading to increased power costs could harm Michigan’s ability to attract such large-scale economic development projects.

Michigan Conservative Energy Forum Executive Director Ed Rivet said last Friday he was optimistic about the package.

“I think that a lot of this is doable,” Rivet said. “We think that the innovation and technology is coming.”

Even five years ago, he may not have been as optimistic, but the shift to renewable energy has been evolving quickly, and it likely will continue.

He said he and other conservatives generally dislike mandates, but setting goals with an intent on working on ways to achieve them together is a worthy goal.

Rivet said 100% renewables by 2035 may not be doable, but significant reductions in emissions in the energy sector is possible. The only catch for him, he said, would be that the state cannot ask for more than the existing technology allows.

Rivet said if the state incentivizes innovation, then the situation could continue to improve for enlarging the state’s use of renewable energy sources.

“I have a lot of confidence in the Public Service Commission process,” Rivet said.

He said the PSC has been deliberate in its weighing of Integrated Resource Plan cases before it, considering what utilities are capable of over the next five or 10 years in providing reliable and affordable service.

Outside of the phasing out of coal and push for 100% renewables by 2035, he said the other items in the legislative package “are very realistic” and, through work by stakeholders, can be accomplished.

When asked for comment last week, spokespersons for Consumers and DTE both forwarded statements they had previously issued last month in response to the initial announcement of the Senate Democrats’ bill package. Both utilities highlighted their efforts toward renewable energy generation but did not directly comment on the proposed legislation (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 14, 2023).

PSC Chair Dan Scripps said following the commission’s April 24 meeting that the commission is just starting its review of the legislation.

Scripps said he sits on the council that helped produce the report that guided the recommendations outlined in the MI Healthy Climate plan.

“I think it’s broadly aligned with the direction that the governor’s articulated,” Scripps said of the Senate Democrats’ legislative package. “I haven’t seen anything that’s wildly off-base in terms of the direction that she’s outlined.”

Scripps said there is strong support for many of the items in the report and MI Healthy Climate plan that warrant legislative consideration.

Action items in the plan include generating 60% of the state’s electricity from renewable resource and phasing out coal-fired power plants in the state, reducing emissions from home and business heating by 17%, tripling the state’s recycling rate to 45%, and having electric vehicle infrastructure in place to support 2 million EVs on the roads (See Gongwer Michigan Report, April 21, 2022).

He did not see a problem in setting a mandate for renewable energy production, pointing to the 10% by 2008 goal and increasing it to 15% by 2021 under the 2016 state energy law.

“If they set a goal, then through our processes, we’re able to … review what’s the best way to get there,” Scripps said. “I think the Renewable Energy Plan cases that we adjudicated between 2008 and 2021 sort of considered a range of options.”

Scripps said it may simply take considering a few new factors to consider in a utility’s resource plans to determine what needs to be done to accomplish the shift in energy production.

“The flexibility is important,” Scripps said. “I think that we’ve shown over the last several years of the IRP proceedings that with that flexibility we can, there might be different pathways to the same goal.”

House, Senate Budgets Less Than Governor’s in General Fund

Budgets bills now sitting on the floor of the House and Senate are less than Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s proposal from earlier this year in General Fund, while both chambers have recommended spending more overall.

Next week the Senate is expected to begin voting on a series of budget bills containing $79.5 billion in gross adjusted spending. This is slightly above the governor’s proposed budget of $79.4 billion in gross adjusted spending.

Numbers from the Senate Fiscal Agency show the governor’s proposed spending in General Fund at more than $14.8 billion, while the Senate appropriators crafted a proposal containing about $14.3 billion General Fund.

For the School Aid Fund, the governor proposed slightly more ($19.09 billion) than the Senate Appropriations Committee members ($19.06 billion).

The House has proposed spending slightly less General Fund than Whitmer, $14.7 billion compared to $14.8 billion, with the gross total above the executive budget recommendation. The House committee proposes a gross total budget of $81.4 billion, compared to Whitmer’s $80.6 billion.

Both the House Appropriations Committee and the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday reported the final budget bills to the floor of their respective chambers, setting the table for continued negotiations between the Legislature and Whitmer’s office.

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Sen. Sarah Anthony (D-Lansing) told reporters that with the movement of bills, she believes the Legislature is still on target with her goal of completing the budget later this month or in early June.

“There have been, in some ways, significant differences between the executive recommendations and the House, but I’m excited to get in the room and start working through those details,” Anthony said.

She explained that in multiple budgets, the appropriations panels had similar spending levels while proposing different methods of funding various priorities.

Anthony said she did not believe the House, Senate, and administration are too far off as they approach negotiations in the coming weeks. The chair said she also does not expect many surprises in the final product.

When asked about the involvement of Republicans in the process so far, Anthony said she directed her subcommittee chairs to be in regular contact with their Republican colleagues on amendments or finding ways to put some of their priorities into the budget.

“I personally think that each and every Republican has the ability to fight for their own communities,” Anthony said.

HOUSE COMMITTEE MEETING: The Appropriations Committee reported the House’s remaining seven budgets for the 2023-24 fiscal year to the House floor on Wednesday. The budgets included General Government (HB 4292), the Department of Corrections (HB 4247), K-12 school aid (HB 4286), the Department of Education (HB 4287), the Department of Transportation (HB 4309), the Department of Health and Human Services (HB 4310), and Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (HB 4246).

The biggest change made Wednesday was an amendment to the General Government budget proposal, which added $10 million to help the Department of State implement Proposal 22-2.

Coming out of the subcommittee, the Department of State was only allotted $5 million for the implementation for implementing additional costs of Proposal 1 and Proposal 2 for the 2023-24 fiscal year. The subcommittee also concurred with Whitmer’s recommendation to provide an additional $11.5 million for the current fiscal year to implement the proposals. Still, the proposal fell far short of Benson’s request for a $177.6 million supplemental for the current year and next year’s budget. Benson’s proposal was to, among other things, cover the cost of early voting as well as what she described as historic underfunding of local clerk operations.

The amendment would provide an additional $10 million for Proposal 2, passed by voters last November, and would bring the total up to $15 million. Rep. Felicia Brabec (D- Pittsfield Township), who chairs the House Appropriations General Government Subcommittee and put forward the amendment on Wednesday, stressed that conversations were still ongoing.

“We want to be able to support what our residents overwhelmingly said to us,” she said. “We just need to do continued work on that.”

The amendment to the General Government budget was the only significant change to the budgets coming out of the subcommittees, though other amendments were adopted to adjust boilerplate language.

Nearly 100 amendments were put forward by Republicans during the committee meeting, which lasted for more than four hours, but all of them failed.

Most of the Republican-proposed amendments related to retaining a reporting requirement for a state agency; reducing or eliminating a budget line item for a new or existing program; providing funding for charter schools; eliminating diversity, equity, and inclusion requirements for certain funding; and increasing funding for local infrastructure.

“The big picture of it is, the governor and the Democrats wanted to spend all of our surplus and dwindle that, often creating new programs that have to be sustained in the future,” said Jerry Ward, press secretary for House Minority Leader Matt Hall (R-Richland Township). “And…we want to make sure there’s transparency and when we are spending money…it’s going into things that matter, such as local roads, things that are going to continue to have an impact for years to come.”

Democrats have retained much of the reporting language that was struck in Gov. Gretchen Whitmer‘s budget recommendation and included an additional $400 million in local road funding that was not in the executive budget, but Ward said Republicans want to see more.

Rep. Sarah Lightner (R-Springport) said she was disappointed that none of the Republican amendments have been adopted during the budget process so far.

“The Democrats voted down program reports and transparency practices within numerous budgets. For example, the budget for the Unemployment Insurance Agency has no checks and balances to ensure federal dollars provided to the UIA are spent properly. Guard rails have been eliminated, enabling the UIA director to spend taxpayer dollars ‘willy nilly’ without any oversight from the Legislature. Democrats voted down our amendment to hold the UIA director accountable to Michigan taxpayers by requiring them to come before the Appropriations committees before spending taxpayer dollars,” she said in a statement. “I’m hopeful we will see more bipartisan collaboration in the coming weeks as we move through the budget process.”

With the bills reported on Wednesday, all House subcommittee budgets have made it through the House Appropriations Committee and have been reported to the floor.

The numbers reported during the Consensus Revenue Estimating Conference on May 19 will help refine the final numbers for the budget.

SENATE COMMITTEE MEETING: The final two budget bills were reported to the full Senate on Wednesday: the Department of Health and Human Services budget (SB 190) and the Department of Labor and Economic Opportunity (SB 194). Both bills were reported 13-6 along party lines, as has been the case with each budget bill thus far.

Sen. Jon Bumstead (R-North Muskegon), the minority vice chair on the panel, explained the GOP vote against the DHHS budget by saying the bill’s contents were “kind of a surprise” for his caucus. He referenced the significant number of line items for programs.

“There’s a lot of stuff in here we just didn’t know about, there’s a lot of special projects,” Bumstead said. “We’re just a no on this; there were so many projects.”

He pointed to the Highland Park water debt funding as an example while questioning why it would be placed in the DHHS budget.

Bumstead repeated a concern he expressed to reporters following Tuesday’s meeting, saying his caucus was not aware of any proposed amendments until shortly before the hearing and would prefer to have more notice.

As to the issue of whether the Republicans take any steps, such as not granting immediate effect on the budget, Bumstead said his caucus will have to work out a plan to proceed soon.

The question of whether the Republicans will provide the necessary votes to grant immediate effect on final passage of the budget came up Tuesday. If the budget is not granted immediate effect it could prevent the state from having the spending authority to operate at the start of the fiscal year on October 1 (See Gongwer Michigan Report, May 2, 2023).

The senator said it will take some time before Republican leadership is brought more closely into negotiations, given the one-party control by Democrats.

“The governor’s going to have to work with her caucus in the House and in the Senate … it’s going to be a lot of haggling there before they start dealing with us,” Bumstead said.

Not a single amendment for the DHHS budget was proposed Wednesday prior to it being reported, but there could end up being floor amendments.

As to the LEO budget, two amendments were introduced by Sen. Mary Cavanagh (D-Redford Township) and were adopted, both by 13-6 votes along party lines.

The first amendment includes language as to how some of the funding for the College Success Fund must be used, as well as language governing the use of one-time funds for construction training.

In the second amendment, there are multiple changes adding monies to several items including for entrepreneurship, minority-owned businesses, and the disabilities network. Some of the items were placeholders while others had larger dollar amounts, which Cavanagh told reporters places them in the budget for further negotiations.

Sen. Sylvia Santana (D-Detroit), who chairs the Senate Appropriations Health and Human Services Subcommittee, told reporters the DHHS budget is a “fair budget” that is nonpartisan and provides for many people across the state.

When asked about Bumstead’s concerns with the numerous programs within the DHHS budget, Santana said: “there are programs out here that are doing the work but maybe not have the resources to build capacity,” and the funding, in many cases, one-time monies, can be of use.

She pointed to homeless shelters and substance abuse centers as examples of targeting different statewide priorities.

As to the concerns by Republicans over the Highland Park funding, Santana pointed to the governor’s proposal for $100 million in water infrastructure in her budget proposal.

“I thought this would be a great utilization of those dollars,” Santana said, adding there is time to work out which budget such monies might work best to address that item. “I thought it made sense in this particular budget to be able to support them.”

Whitmer Signs Military Absent Voter Bill

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer called legislation she signed Monday allowing military and overseas absentee ballots to be counted if received within six days of an election an important change to ensure the voices of those defending the country are heard.

Whitmer signed SB 259, which is now PA 25 of 2023, which codifies parts of Proposal 22-2 passed last year by voters making constitutional changes to state election law.

As passed, the new public act allows military and overseas absentee ballots postmarked by an Election Day that are received by local clerks within six days to be counted.

“Michigan’s service members are the best of us,” Whitmer said in a statement. “I am proud to sign this legislation expanding absentee voter access to more service members bravely serving around the world. Let’s keep working to boost access to the ballot box and ensure election officials have the tools they need to run Michigan’s elections efficiently and effectively.”

Sen. Paul Wojno (D-Warren) said in a statement his bill will “give our servicemen and women the peace of mind that when they are deployed in defense of our nation their ballot will be counted.”

Wojno served as city clerk in Warren from 2007-18 prior to being elected to the Senate.

“This legislation also gives our dedicated election officials the tools they need to ensure our elections maintain the highest standards for transparency and integrity,” Wojno said.

The bill passed the Senate 24-14 and the House 56-52. The bill was granted immediate effect.

Sen. Jeremy Moss (D-Southfield), chair of the Senate Elections and Ethics Committee, in a statement, said he was proud to help get the bill to the governor’s desk and said it will improve access to voting.

“Our military personnel defend our democracy; we must defend their right to participate in our democracy,” Moss said.

Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, in a statement, said she was grateful for the Legislature’s work to make the changes outlined in PA 25.

“Every citizen’s vote strengthens our democracy, and this law will help ensure the right of military service members and their spouses and dependents to make their voices heard in our elections while serving our country overseas,” Benson said.

Promote the Vote Executive Director Michael Davis Jr. said a key provision of Proposal 2 specifically protects overseas voters and the rights of military servicemembers to vote.

“We’re so grateful to the Legislature for passing SB 259 and to the governor for swiftly signing it into law,” he said in a statement. “There’s more work to do, but today Michigan takes another step towards protecting the rights of those who are protecting us.”

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