Faso editorial board, Part II

During a meeting Friday with the Times Herald-Record’s editorial board, Rep. John Faso, R-Kinderhook, touched on a variety of issues. For additional coverage from the meeting, go to recordonline.com. For video, go to recordonline.com/video.

Faso said that Obama-era guidance that protected transgender students’ rights to use bathrooms that corresponded with th

eir gender identity had been paused in the courts and probably would have been defeated. Faso said issues dealing with transgender rights and students should instead be handled with “generosity and delicacy” by local school officials.

“We’ve just generally over-federalized a lot of things in our country, I’m not sure that the bathroom policy with a local school district needs to be subject to a United States Justice department and Education department authority,” Faso said.

Asked whether Congress as a whole should extend rights to protect sexual identity, Faso said he was open to it if there was evidence states weren’t handling the issue appropriately.

“We should consider that,” Faso said.

With regard to the national debt, Faso said there’s a “cognitive dissonance” on the Trump administration’s statements that it will preserve Medicaid and Social Security funding, increase military spending and repair massive amounts of infrastructure all without raising taxes.

Faso said the Congressional Budget Office projects that in 10 years national debt would rise from $19 trillion to $29 trillion.

“You know what, that’s unacceptable,” Faso said.

Faso also addressed some of his recent votes in congress. Faso defended his vote to nix an Obama-era rule that would have limited those who have mental disabilities from buying guns

“This was a rare instance where the NRA and the ACLU agreed. They both opposed that rule,” Faso said.

The rule would have had the Social Security Administration report to the FBI’s background check system those who have disabilities.

Faso said the American Civil Liberties Union was against the rule because it shifted the burden to prove that a person was incapable of buying a gun off of the government onto the individual.

On the environment, Faso said hydraulic fracturing of oil and natural gas has produced a revolution in energy for the United States and, in New York, the switch to natural gas from coal has led to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. He said he supports “safety and a strict regulatory regime” on hydraulic fracturing but that a carbonless near-future wasn’t realistic.

“The notion that we can overnight shift from reliance on fossil fuels to all renewables is not a correct one,” Faso said.

Faso also defended his recent congressional vote throwing out an Obama-era rule that banned dumping coal mining debris into nearby streams. He said the rule was an last-minute overreach by the Obama administration and that he was convinced by arguments that states are effectively regulating coal development. He said the rule would have shut down mining operations that were far from streams.

“I think that the way that this has been portrayed by the left is grossly inaccurate,” Faso said

Defending his record on the environment, Faso also said he voted against repealing another Obama-era rule that would have reduced the burning off of methane into the atmosphere on public lands. The measure still passed.

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Rep. John Faso fields health care questions in Monticello

The future of healthcare was front and center for small business owners Tuesday morning, at a forum with Rep. John Faso held at the Miss Monticello Diner.

The $20-a-head event in Monticello for small business owners had limited seating and RSVP registration that began at 7:30 a.m. The event was broadcast live online and began at 8:30 a.m.

Faso, R-Kinderhook, is in his first term representing the 19th Congressional District, which includes Ulster and Sullivan counties.

After briefing those in the diner about his first few weeks of committee meetings, Faso took questions from the crowd.

Judy Balaban, CEO of Wellness Home Care in Goshen, said her concern was about the working poor. She said her son gets health insurance through the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare. She told Faso that proposals by Republicans to change the structure of funding the program to health savings accounts or advanced tax credits wouldn’t help her son pay for the monthly premiums.

“I’m asking what the plan is for those millions and millions of people that are not going to be able to be insured,” Balaban asked.

Faso said he thinks people like her son won’t see much change.

“I think it would almost be imperceptible,” Faso said. “The concept of an advanced refundable tax credit to defray the cost of purchasing insurance is very, very comparable to the premium support.”

Lisa Lindsley, founder of KarmaKapital in Gardiner, worried that a repeal of the ACA would allow insurers to discriminate based on gender or age.

“I’m 52 – not getting any younger,” Lindsley said.

Faso said he supports the ACA’s ban on gender discrimination, but said the law is flawed by having an “age banding of three to one.” The ACA currently says that insurers can’t charge its oldest customers more than three times it charges its youngest.

The change was meant to curb costs for the elderly, who generally need more care. He said the impact is that insurance is too expensive for young people and they’re instead choosing to pay a fine instead of joining the market. Faso said he’s listened to experts who say the ratio should be five to one to make the program “actuarially sound.”

“Age banding is something that critically needs to be adjusted,” Faso said.

Faso also addressed a concern about Republican efforts to change Medicaid into a block grant, which could reduce the amount of money the federal government spends on the program. Faso said if turned into a block grant the funding should be tied to medical inflation.

“I want to see a block grant that gives more flexibility to the state,” Faso said.

Faso said that through the ACA, the federal government began paying 90 percent of the premium costs for Medicaid recipients in New York instead of the 50 percent it had been paying. Faso argued that was never going to be sustainable.

“This is my ideal of how to transform this. That we have a base year based on where we are now, our spending now, that we try to move through tax credits and other efforts, move many of those Medicaid people to private insurance so they’re off Medicaid and at the same time recognize that the federal reimbursement was likely to come down to 50 percent,” Faso said.

But an audience member pushed back on that, saying that the federal government is required to stay at 90 percent coverage by law now and that Congress itself is the one who’s proposing lowering the amount of coverage. He also argued that Medicaid cost growth isn’t as big a problem as is being portrayed, saying its cost growth has the lowest rate of inflation of any health care sector. Faso disagreed.

“What I’m suggesting to you that the trend line in terms of those Medicaid expenditures was not sustainable,” Faso said.

Answering a question from an audience member, Faso earned some applause when he said he would support an investigation of Russia’s influence on the administration of President Donald Trump. Calling Russia’s attempts to influence the election “ham handed,” he said the intelligence committees of the House and Senate should look into the issues.

“Putin is attempting to play a very weak hand in a very aggressive fashion,” Faso said.

Faso was also urged by an audience member to host a town hall-style event that’s fully open to the public, as opposed to the limited paid event Tuesday. She said the town hall would allow him to hear from more than a select group of constituents.

Faso said he’s been holding smaller events and didn’t think the town hall model is good for gathering information. He also said there’s an “organized political effort” going on at town halls.

“I’ve seen around the country the ways the town halls have been conducted, they’re not productive and nobody believes they’re productive,” Faso said.

The full video of the forum can be found here: https://www.facebook.com/kurlanderstrategy/videos/1853126288279675/

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Sussman still mulling county executive bid; Skoufis rules out running

Less than nine months before Orange County Executive Steve Neuhaus faces re-election for the first time since he took office in 2014, it remains unclear which Democratic candidate will be on the ballot to challenge him.

Assemblyman James Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat who won a third term in November and whose profile has risen since he took office, took himself out of consideration this week. In a press release on Thursday, Skoufis said he was humbled that supporters and friends had encouraged him to run, but that he preferred to remain a “substantial voice” in Albany on “tax, education, labor, veterans, health, economic development” and other issues, a much broader portfolio than he would have in county office.

Taking a jab at the Republican incumbent, Skoufis added: “My neighbors in Orange County deserve an Executive who offers bold, honest leadership, not the combination of partisan politics and play-it-safe policy that we’ve seen. I look forward to supporting a candidate for County Executive who offers a real, sustainable vision for our community that effectively tackles the challenging issues we face.”

Michael Sussman, the attorney and Democratic activist, indicated as early as November that he was considering a run for county executive, and he has been meeting with groups of supporters to discuss specific issues that might drive such a campaign. He told the Times Herald-Record on Friday that he is continuing to develop the framework of a Democratic platform with those groups, but has not decided yet whether he would in fact be the party’s standard bearer.

“We’re looking to really try to lead with ideas,” Sussman said, listing economic development, urban development, jobs, arts and recreation as some of the discussion areas. He argued it was more important now to focus on the goals instead of the candidate – “the whys and the whats perhaps more than the whos.”

“When the time is right,” he said, “whoever the Democratic candidate is will have a platform to stand on.”

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Assembly Republicans propose increase in college tuition aid

Assembly Republicans this week laid out their alternative to Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s “free tuition” proposal, suggesting the state expand both eligibility and dollar amounts for New York’s existing tuition grant program and let taxpayers deduct part of their student-loan payments from their income taxes.

Dubbed “the Affordable College for All Initiative,” the concept – it has not yet been put into bill form – would raise to $125,000 the current $80,000 income limit to qualify for the state’s longstanding Tuition Assistance Program, better known as TAP. It also would lift the maximum annual TAP award to $6,470 from $5,165, raise every TAP grant by $500 and restore eligibility for graduate students (they got booted from TAP in 2010).

Republicans calculate their proposal would cost $146 million this year, just a little below the $163 million Cuomo has said his proposal initially would cost. One of their selling points is that students can spend TAP grants at both public and private institutions, whereas Cuomo has proposed free tuition only at public colleges and universities.

Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, a Deerpark Republican, praised his conference’s plan and panned Cuomo’s in a video recorded after he and his colleagues announced their alternative.

“It’s much, much better than the socialist proposal that Governor Cuomo put out to us a couple months ago, with what he says tuition-free college assistance, which isn’t the case,” Brabenec said in the recording. “Whenever you hear ‘free college,’ that usually means ‘tax increase.’”

Yet there are great similarities in the two ideas. Cuomo’s proposal would incorporate the TAP funding already available to students (and federal Pell grants as well) and simply cover the tuition difference, much like the increase in TAP grants that Republicans suggested (their proposed $6,470 maximum is the current in-state tuition amount at New York’s four-year public colleges). And his proposal also would phase in a $125,000 income limit over three years. (Under his plan, the cutoff would be $100,000 this fall, $110,000 in 2018, and $125,000 thereafter).

Republicans say the state hasn’t raised the income threshold for TAP in 17 years.

They argue that Cuomo’s idea of waiving tuition at public colleges for qualifying students could siphon students from private colleges and hurt their enrollment. Cuomo recently countered that New York already lavishes taxpayer money on its private universities through TAP grants, with about 79,000 students at those institutions claiming an average of $3,200 a year, according to a Politifact fact check of his claim this week.

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Senate passes bill to penalize state for late STAR checks

The state Senate voted unanimously on Monday for a bill that would require the state to pay interest to homeowners if it mails them their STAR checks late, a reaction to the debacle that ensued after the state made a major change last year in the two-decade-old tax relief system.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Cathy Young and approved 61-0, would require the state to pay the homeowner interest for each day after Sept. 15 that the check is postmarked. The state would also have to reimburse homeowners for any late penalties their school districts charge them if they pay their tax bills late. The proposal had no Assembly sponsor as of Tuesday.

Sept. 15 was the date by which the Department of Taxation and Finance was supposed to have mailed payments to the first enrollees under the new STAR system, which forces new homeowners to get a check from Albany instead of having hundreds of dollars deducted from their school tax bills. In reality, the department first made a mess by mailing taxpayers the wrong amounts and then failed to send checks on time, forcing homeowners to pay their full tax bills without the substantial STAR savings. It has taken months for some of those checks to arrive.

Sen. David Carlucci, a Rockland County Democrat, has legislation pending that would force the state to pay homeowners a 5 percent penalty for STAR payments made after Sept. 30 and an additional 1 percent for each additional month of waiting. Carlucci also has a separate bill to simply repeal the STAR change made last year.

Senators and Assembly members grilled the department’s acting commissioner last week about the STAR fiasco. “It just seems to me that it’s an unworkable system,” Young said during that hearing, referring to the tight timeline the state had set itself to distribute checks to homeowners in time to pay their September school tax bills.

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Skoufis supports United Monroe participation in KJ talks (updated)

Assemblyman James Skoufis issued a statement supporting the inclusion of United Monroe’s leaders in any private discussions among representatives of the Orange County Legislature, the Town of Monroe and the Village of Kiryas Joel about separating Kiryas Joel from Monroe by forming a new town consisting of Kiryas Joel and additional land.

A petition to form a Town of North Monroe was given to the county Legislature last year but hasn’t been acted on. Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia has said he wants to meet first with local representatives to see whether they can reach “middle ground” on a proposal that would be widely supported in Monroe in a referendum, which is how the issue ultimately would be decided. He initially planned to invite government figures only, but United Monroe leaders have argued that their citizens group’s ability to mobilize voters and involvement in litigation challenging Kiryas Joel’s expansion efforts warrants their inclusion in any negotiations.

In a press release seconding that argument, Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, wrote: “United Monroe’s leaders have long demonstrated their commitment to the issues under discussion and are uniquely trusted in our community to represent the thousands of residents they themselves have mobilized. Disregard for United Monroe is disregard for the people they represent. United Monroe deserves a seat at the table.”

Skoufis also objected strongly to a notion that Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin floated in a recent Times Herald-Record story about the potential for negotiations on a North Monroe. Szegedin had offered, as an example of possible changes in the proposal that could be made, the idea of substituting Woodbury’s ACE Farm land for some of the 382 acres of Monroe land outside of Kiryas Joel included in the pending petition.

“First and foremost,” Skoufis said, “I will oppose this idea with every fiber of my being if it is pursued. Second, any discussions that directly impact Woodbury should cease immediately until Woodbury representatives, including myself, are invited to participate.”

Update: Kiryas Joel Administrator Gedalye Szegedin emailed county officials and legislators and others the following comments on this blog post: “For the record, KJ officials are perfectly fine to include the Woodbury Board and Assemblyman Skoufis in this discussion giving all a seat at the negotiations table. we believe that ALL local government and elected leaders should have a seat at the table working on the formation of North Monroe. North Monroe should be designed as a global settlement of all land and block-vote disputes in this area of the County, all block-voting communities should be melted into one Town of North Monroe, and be forever eliminated from having any political impact on Monroe or Woodbury and MWSD.”

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Maloney revives bill to ensure adequate public defense

Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney announced this week that he and Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey have re-introduced legislation that would reinforce the constitutional right to a legal defense by allowing class action suits against states that fail to adequately provide public defenders for the poor criminal suspects.

The two Democrats first introduced the Equal Justice Under Act last year as a potential remedy for the often strained systems for representing poor defendants around the country. In the House, 16 of Maloney’s fellow Democrats signed on as co-sponsors.

In a statement touting the proposal on Wednesday, Maloney said:

“Decades after the Supreme Court reaffirmed the constitutional right of every American to an attorney in a criminal case, public defenders are still juggling hundreds of cases and defendants are still meeting their lawyers only minutes before entering a guilty plea. Our criminal justice system is broken, and that disproportionately hurts minority communities and poor Americans. Our legislation would give indigent defendants the tools they need to secure their right to effective counsel before it is too late – giving all Americans, regardless of the size of their paycheck, equal justice under the law.”

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Brescia rebuked for removing two Dems from committees (updated)

Audience members assailed Orange County Legislature Chairman Steve Brescia at the Legislature’s February session for his removal of two Democratic lawmakers from key committees, saying that Matt Turnbull and Jeff Berkman were serving their constituents by asking questions on those panels and that Brescia’s decision to remove them “reeks of political retaliation,” as one speaker put it.

Dan Burke, a Democrat and former Monroe town councilman who took to the microphone, went so far as to compare Brescia to White House strategist Steve Bannon, who declared in an interview last month that the news media should “keep its mouth shut and just listen for a while.” Brescia had told the Times Herald-Record that he had removed Turnbull – the Democratic minority leader – from the Ways and Means Committee for acting “too partisan” and had taken Berkman off the Rules Committee for asking too many questions and prolonging meetings as a result.

“We need more people to speak up, and we should be encouraging this,” Burke said.

The meeting dissolved in rancor soon after audience members finished speaking. Turnbull asked to comment on the controversy, but Brescia closed the meeting and walked off the stage at the Orange County Emergency Services Center amid angry protests at his not allowing Turnbull to speak.

Roseanne Sullivan, a Democratic legislator from the Town of Wallkill, later objected to the Record that Brescia also had refused to appoint her to an ad hoc committee in charge of distributing grants to school districts for security improvements, a task that she felt her tenure as president of the Pine Bush School Board made her uniquely qualified to do.

Brescia, a Montgomery Republican, wrote a long letter to news outlets to address “the uproar” he said his removal of Berkman and Berkman had caused. Among other things, he noted that he had placed the two Democrats on other committees, and said he had been “more than accommodating” to Democrats in the past and had let one be a committee chairman for two years. He went on to say that he welcomes questions but objects to irrelevant ones and “purposeful stalling by a small segment of the Democratic caucus.” He also complained that Turnbull had read an inflammatory, polarizing speech, which was mostly written by Orange County Democratic Party Chairman Brett Broge,” at the Legislature’s meeting in January.

“I will continue to try to work with all Legislators, but I will not condone behavior that simply seeks to stall the necessary movement of the wheels of government,” Brescia wrote.

(Update: On Friday, Sullivan shared a pair of Facebook posts written in January in which she and Brescia sharply criticized one another. She took issue with Brescia saying she’d missed a mandatory ethics training session – she has distributed an attendance sheet to show that she was there – and criticizing her for not attending a voluntary “dispute resolution” class for legislators. She called the class a waste of time and taxpayers’ money. “I would say his vindictiveness is exhausting, and it’s hurtful to the county as a whole.”)

The friction is a prelude to elections this year for all 21 Legislature seats, along with races for county executive, county clerk and district attorney.

Turnbull had a salvo fired at him this week for a separate matter. It came in response to the lone dissenting vote he cast at that same Legislature meeting this month on a resolution opposing parole for Judith Clark, imprisoned for her role in the 1981 Brink’s robbery in Nyack that left two police officers and a security guard dead. Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s commutation of her sentence has outraged law enforcement officers statewide and particularly in Rockland County and Orange County, where the trial was held.

In a statement this week, a representative of the county deputies’ union denounced Turnbull for voting against the resolution and warned him of election repercussions. 

“You, sir, would not last one day in the shoes of any law enforcement officer,” wrote Jeremy Yela, vice president of the Orange County Deputy Sheriffs Police Benevolent Association. “If your intent was to commit political suicide, then you have succeeded. Your constituents should be ashamed and we hope they all remember this come re-election time.”

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Rockland GOP chairman accuses Skoufis of duplicity on lawmaker pay raises (updated)

An anonymous source quoted in the Daily News this week claimed that Assemblyman James Skoufis rebuked Gov. Andrew Cuomo during a private gathering for blocking lawmakers’ expected raises, prompting both Cuomo — in this source’s account – and Rockland County’s Republican chairman to brand Skoufis a hypocrite for staunchly opposing any increase in the Legislature’s salaries in public.

The source, who reportedly was present for the Jan. 24 meeting with Assembly Democrats at the governor’s mansion, told the Daily News that Skoufis “said he was very mad that he didn’t get a raise,” and that he didn’t support the proposal in public because it was unpopular and he “didn’t want the opposition.”

Rockland Republican Chairman Lawrence Garvey responded with a press release charging that Skoufis “has been caught lying to voters again.”

“He’s a typical politician who says one thing when he’s in the district and does something else when he’s in Albany,” Garvey wrote.

Skoufis calls the Daily News’ account of his exchange with Cuomo “ridiculous,” saying he never told the governor he was mad about not getting a raise – “or in any way expressed being upset or disappointed.” He said he had merely responded to Cuomo’s complaint about his working on New Year’s Eve to try to strike a deal with lawmakers on raises and other issues, by saying that Cuomo wouldn’t have had to work so hard if he hadn’t undermined a commission that was expected to award the raises but didn’t.

Skoufis, a Woodbury Democrat, also said that most of his remarks to the governor at that meeting were on a different subject: Cuomo’s proposal to offer free tuition to qualifying students at New York’s public colleges. Skoufis shares that goal but has been sharply critical of the governor’s approach.

Update: Skoufis wanted to underscore this additional point he made in a written response to the Daily News story: “I have consistently said I would have – and will – vote against any pay raise bill that comes to the floor of the Assembly.”

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Law to cancel or cut pensions of convicted officals clears second hurdle

Here’s a form of corruption control in Albany that almost everyone could agree on.

On the same day this week, both legislative chambers passed for the second time a proposed constitutional amendment that would allow judges to revoke or reduce the state pensions of certain public employees convicted of a felony related to his or her official duties. The votes were a unanimous 147-0 in the Assembly, a nearly unanimous 57-4 in the Senate. If signed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, the proposal would be put to voters in a referendum this November and written into the state constitution with their consent.

After former Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos and former Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver were both convicted on federal corruption charges in late 2015, and then the Legislature ignored or disagreed on almost every reform measure Cuomo proposed, “pension forfeiture” was one idea everybody could embrace. More of a corruption punishment than a deterrent, the proposal lawmakers ultimately crafted applies to elected officials, gubernatorial appointees, judges and certain other “public officers” and wouldn’t automatically result in forfeiture, despite the rhetoric. A judge would decide whether to cancel or cut or a pension and by how much, considering such factors as the impact on spouses and children.

The Legislature had passed a law in 2011 to strip public officials of their state pensions if they’re convicted of corruption, but it didn’t apply to anyone who took office before then. The constitutional amendment would not have that constraint.

The Republican who replaced Skelos and Democrat who replaced Silver issued a joint statement in support after their chambers passed the bill on Monday. Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan and Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie also announced the Legislature had passed a joint resolution requiring lawmakers who earn more than $5,000 a year in private-sector jobs to get the Legislature Ethics Commission’s assurance that their outside income doesn’t pose a conflict of interest.

Lawmakers from throughout the region issued a chorus of amens. Here are their statements:

“These are important measures and a step forward in restoring the public faith in State government.  Since my election in 2003, this has been my only work, and it is work that I have been entrusted to do by my community.  I have never and would never violate that trust.  Unfortunately, history, as well as recent experience, has shown that there are people who have used their office for personal gain.  It is unconscionable and reprehensible, and makes this legislation and resolution a necessity.”
- Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther, D-Forestburgh

“This is true ethics reform that will hit corrupt politicians where it hurts the most – their wallets. No public official who has been convicted of abusing their office and breaking the public’s trust should be eligible to receive a taxpayer-funded pension.”
- Sen. George Amedore, R-Rotterdam

“It’s obscene that politicians convicted of corruption can file for their pensions from behind bars. The pension forfeiture amendment stops this practice by keeping these convicted criminals from profiting off the backs of hardworking taxpayers. Approval of this amendment ensures that the public servants you elect will remain accountable to you.”
-Assemblyman Frank Skartados, D-Milton

“This is an important step in beginning to drain the swamp of corruption that has embroiled Albany for far too long. Lawmakers who abuse the public trust should never ride off into the sunset on the backs of taxpayers, and this law will serve as a deterrent to those who conduct their business outside the scope of the law. I am glad we are one step closer to this measure finally becoming law, but it could’ve come far sooner had Assembly Democrats and big labor interests not blocked this bill for several years.”
-Assemblyman Karl Brabenec, R-Deerpark

“For far too long, corrupt politicians have been able to kick back and retire with a taxpayer-funded pension from behind bars. New Yorkers deserve better. That’s why I voted for the second time to strip away pensions from public officers convicted of corruption – they shouldn’t receive a single dime from the people they betrayed (A.1749). It’ll now be on the ballot in November for voters to decide whether to amend the state constitution.

“My duty is to ensure state government operates ethically and on behalf of the public. That’s why I also voted for a measure to require legislators to disclose their outside income to the independent Legislative Ethics Commission to determine if there are any conflicts of interest (B.404/C.25). While I continue to endorse fully banning outside income for legislators, this is at least a small step in the right direction.”
- Assemblyman James Skoufis, D-Woodbury

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