October 31, 2011

Panel Proposes Eliminating Democratic Legislative Districts

The Legislative Reapportionment Commission today passed a Republican plan to redraw the state’s 203 State House and 50 State Senate districts by a 3-2 vote.
            LRC Chair Stephen McEwen, a retired Superior Court Judge, voted with GOP Caucus leaders Dominic Pileggi (R-Delaware) and Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) to pass the GOP’s plan.  Democrat Caucus Leaders Jay Costa (D-Allegheny) and Frank Dermody (D-Allegheny) voted against the plan.
            Just prior to that vote the LRC voted down a Democrat alternative plan proposed by Sen. Costa by a similar 3-2 vote.
            The Senate plan moves the current 45th District from Allegheny County to Monroe County.  Freshman Democratic Senator James Brewster now occupies that seat.
            Click Here for a copy of the proposed Senate Districts.
            The House plan moves four seats – two Republican-held and two Democrat-held.
            Rep. John Evans’ (R-Erie) seat moves to Berks County while the seat of former House Speaker Dennis O’Brien (R-Philadelphia) moves to York County.  O'Brien was elected Speaker with the help of House Democrats and is now running for a Philadelphia Council seat.
            Other Democratic House members will also have their districts moved.  Rep. Chelsa Wagner's district will move from Allegheny County to Allentown, Lehigh County, Rep. Jesse White's and Rep. Nick Kotik's district will be combined in Allegheny and Washington counties so they have to run against each other.
            The House plan does not move the 74th District seat of 19-term Democrat incumbent Bud George.
            The House plan comes in three maps: SouthwestSoutheast and the rest of the state.
            Here are the descriptions of each district by county and municipality-- House Districts, Senate Districts.
            A 30-day review period begins today now that the preliminary plan has been adopted.
            NewsClips: Dems Disapprove Of Plan To Redraw House, Senate Lines
                                Panel Proposes Elimination Of Democratic Legislative Districts

                               Redistricting Would Remove Harrisburg From Piccola's District

Monday NewsClips

Reapportionment Panel Could Eliminate Districts
Legislative Commission Considers Initial Map
John Bear: Time's Running Out On Corbett's Platform
Clout: VP Candidate Corbett?
Use Tax Line To Be On State Income Tax Forms
Column: Corbett Still Seeking Charter School Change
Bills Would Update Prevailing Wage Law
GOP Brings Changes To DPW
PA Cuts Off Aid To Thousands
Metcalfe-Josephs Showdowns At Center Stage
Witness ID Errors Is Sparking Call For Safeguards
Lawyers Near Close Of PA Corruption Trial
Drug Stores Fight Mail-Order Pharmacies
Justices Eye Highly Reckless Defense
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October 28, 2011

Oct. 31 PA Environment Digest Now Available

Oct. 31 PA Environment Digest now available. Click Here to print this Digest.

Trout Unlimited, Fish Commission, DEP Celebrate West Branch Susquehanna Recovery

Trout Unlimited, the nation’s largest coldwater conservation organization, the Fish and Boat Commission, and the Department of Environmental Protection celebrated improvements to the West Branch Susquehanna River and its many tributaries at an event Monday at Hyner View State Park.
A 2009 Trout Unlimited study shows that the overall health of the watershed is greatly improving compared to 25 years ago. Fish and insect populations have increased, and water quality and habitat have improved. Scientists collected data at 90 sites across the watershed to evaluate how abandoned mine restoration has affected the river and its tributaries.
“The West Branch Susquehanna River and many of its tributaries are showing amazing signs of recovery from severe pollution from mine drainage for nearly a century,” said Amy Wolfe, TU’s Eastern Abandoned Mine Program Director. “There is still an enormous amount of work that needs to be done to achieve full recovery, but these marked improvements prove that the investments of time and money have been well spent.”
Within the watershed, more than 1,200 stream miles are polluted with mine drainage from abandoned coal mines. TU’s study documents that in the past 25 years, the river’s acidity and level of toxic metals have significantly decreased - to levels deemed safe by the DEP - between Curwensville in Clearfield County to Renovo in Clinton County. Click Here to read more…

Photo: Parker Dam State Park Pumpkin Carving, PA Parks & Forests Foundation

Friday NewsClips

Editorial: Corbett Fails To Take Wheel On Transportation
Study: PA Leads In Deficient Bridges
Legislation Aims To Fund Road, Bridge Fixes
Transit Funding Proposals Take Backseat To Other Issues
Op-Ed: Corbett Has Bold Plan For School Reform
Op-Ed: Support For School Vouchers Bad Policy
Op-Ed: Why Do Lawmakers Public Will On School Vouchers?
Sen. Greenleaf Podcast On Prison, Sentencing Reform
PA Court Elections Among Nation's Most Expensive
Legislative Corruption Trial Ends, Jury Could Get Case Tuesday
Activist Protests Pilleggi's Proposed Changes To Electoral College
Worker Plans To Admit Murder In PA Abortion Case
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October 25, 2011

Corbett Receives Privatization Plan for Liquor Control Board

Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday announced the study for proposed privatization of Pennsylvania’s Liquor Control Board is finished and on his desk.
            “Now begins the process of thoroughly reviewing each proposal and determining the best solution for all citizens of Pennsylvania and consumers,’’ Corbett said. “Pennsylvania should not be in the business of selling alcohol. It’s time to get state government out of the retail trade business and instead focus on essential public services – that’s what taxpayers expect of us.”
            The study, conducted by Public Financial Management Inc., or PFM, was commissioned by the Governor’s Office to analyze the current system and evaluate the potential for privatization of its wholesale and retail wine and liquor operations.
            In its study, PFM also evaluated various approaches to privatization, and researched current business and industry data to predict financial performance under a variety of scenarios.
            Based on that analysis, as well as comparisons to other states, PFM recommended that a privatized system affords the state the best opportunity to improve on the current system as well as provide the best financial benefits for its citizens.
            The nearly 300-page report recommends two positive alternatives, one of which is similar to the plan suggested last July by state Rep. Mike Turzai. The House majority leader’s plan proposes creating retail and wholesale liquor licenses and auctioning them to the highest bidders.
            “I support taking the state out of the liquor business and putting it back into the free market,’’ Corbett said. “Majority Leader Turzai’s proposal is the place to start.
            “We need a proposal that limits the number of retail outlets to protect our neighborhoods. At the same time, the state needs to exit a business it should never have been in to begin with. Captive markets do not make for a free people.
            “I am optimistic that, together with the House and Senate, we can craft an approach to privatization that will manage the sale and distribution of alcoholic beverages, improving the overall customer experience, while maintaining the health and safety of Pennsylvania’s citizens and communities,’’ Corbett said.
            Should legislation offering a viable alternative to the current system reach his desk, Corbett added, he would likely sign it into law.
            Corbett, along with his staff, will now thoroughly review the study and evaluate the options, including how to best disburse revenue from license sales. Proceeds from privatizing liquor sales could result in revenue which could be dedicated to a number of other goals, including the state’s transportation needs.
            “Our system of state stores harkens back to a time government thought it knew best what was good for us,” Corbett said, noting that the Liquor Control Board was formed nearly 80 years ago following the end of Prohibition. “History has shown – as it always will – that the people, not government bureaucrats, know best how to live their lives.’’
            The report is available online.

Tuesday NewsClips

Five Issues Jockey For Spot On Legislative Agenda
State Wrapping Up Legislative Corruption Case
Computergate Trial Poised For Key Testimony
Op-Ed: Fewer Rules, Not Vouchers Needed To Improve Schools
Penn State President Sounds Hopeful About State Funding
Better Press Your Luck At Erie Casino
Labor-Backed Protesters Targeting Toomey
Corbett Declares Fiscal Emergency In Harrisburg
Harrisburg City "Leaders" Have 20 Days To Adopt Recovery Plan
Insurer, Bond Trustees Still Pushing Harrisburg Bankruptcy
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October 21, 2011

Oct. 24 PA Environment Digest Now Available

Oct. 24 PA Environment Digest now available. Click Here to print this Digest.

Study: 3,000 Foot Presumption Of Water Well Pollution Liability Needed Around Gas Wells

The Center for Rural Pennsylvania Friday released the findings of an unbiased and large scale study of water quality in private water wells in rural Pennsylvania before and after the drilling of nearby Marcellus Shale gas wells, according to Sen. Gene Yaw (R-Bradford), Center Chair.
One significant finding in the report recommends increasing the zone of presumptive liability and private water well testing from 1,000 to 3,000 feet from Marcellus Shale gas wells due to increased levels of bromide, sediment and metals found by the study.
The Governor's Marcellus Shale Advisory Commission recommended increasing the liability zone to 2,500 feet from public water supply wells.
The study is entitled, "The Impact of Marcellus Gas Drilling on Rural Drinking Water Supplies," was a Center-sponsored research project conducted by Dr. Elizabeth W. Boyer, Bryan R. Swistock, James Clark, Mark Madden, and Dana E. Rizzo of Pennsylvania State University.
One research recommendation is for additional setback requirements for natural gas drilling companies between the location of gas wells and nearby private water wells for presumed liability and certified mail notification.
"The research found that bromide levels in some water wells increased after drilling and/or fracking. These increases may suggest more subtle impacts to groundwater and the need for more research. Bromide increases appeared to be mostly related to the drilling process. A small number of water wells also appeared to be affected by disturbances due to drilling as evidenced by sediment and/or metals increases that were noticeable to the water supply owner and confirmed by water testing results.
"Increased bromide concentrations in water wells along with sporadic sediment and metals increases were observed within 3,000 feet of Marcellus gas well sites in this study. These results suggest that a 3,000 foot distance between the location of gas wells and nearby private water wells is a more reasonable distance for both presumed responsibility and certified mail notification related to Marcellus gas well drilling than the 1,000 feet that is currently required."
Click Here to read more…

Friday NewsClips

Corbett Signs Harrisburg Takeover Legislation
Corbett Signs Harrisburg Financial Emergency Measure
Corbett Signs Harrisburg Takeover Bill
Governor Moves To Take Fiscal Control Of PA Capital
HBG Mayor: Sad Day For City
Next Stage Of Solving Harrisburg's Fiscal Crisis
Editorial: Has Harrisburg Council Thought Thru All Scenarios?
Lawmakers Revisit Act 47, Financially Distressed Municipalities
New Poconos Community College Will Accomodate 5,000 Students
Faculty Union, SSHE Continue Talks
State Unemployment Rate Up To 8.3 Percent
Commonwealth Court Candidates Spar On Labor, Mumia Abu-Jamal
Santorum Says Cain Misleads Voters On Abortion
Poll: Obama Would Lose Pennsylvania
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October 19, 2011

Sen. Corman Proposes Transportation Funding Legislation

Pennsylvania must act now to repair its crumbling transportation network, according to Sen. Jake Corman (R-Centre), Majority Chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, who Wednesday announced he will introduce legislation that encompasses many of the funding recommendations of a state commission appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett.
            “Pennsylvania leads the nation in the number of structurally deficient bridges, and more than 8,000 miles of highway need to be repaired or replaced,” Sen. Corman said.  “At this point, the Commonwealth is losing ground in simply maintaining our current transportation network, let alone improving infrastructure, adding capacity where necessary, or modernizing to the needs of state travelers.”
            Sen. Corman’s multi-bill legislative package is based largely on recommendations included in the report issued by the Transportation Funding Advisory Commission, which Gov. Corbett created in April to find solutions to the transportation funding crisis facing the state.
            “The state will have to invest at least an additional $2 billion annually to meet our transportation infrastructure needs, and the cost to repair our infrastructure grows with each passing year,” stated Sen. Corman.  “We can’t continue to ignore these pressing challenges, which are directly related to public safety and economic development. “Now is the time to act -- the evidence is overwhelming and the need is there.  The only thing holding us back is political fear.” 
            The TFAC report urged PennDOT to consider a number of measures including adjusting outdated vehicle driver fees for inflation, increasing fines, uncapping the Oil Company Franchise Tax over five years and modernizing many PennDOT services for cost savings. 
            The Corman bill package incorporates most of the Commission’s recommendations, providing a fair, strategic plan for addressing the transportation funding needs of Pennsylvania.  All revenue generated will be dedicated specifically to transportation projects, which means the money will stay in Pennsylvania, creating jobs and boosting the economy.   
            Sen. Corman added, “Drivers are already paying for an underfunded transportation system.  Factoring in vehicle damage, time loss due to a degraded or overcrowded roadways, and reduced options to effectively and efficiently move products, motorists continue to pay more and get nothing in return for an overstressed transportation system.”
            Sen. Corman said funding is badly needed, noting that the state currently has 50 closed bridges and 650 weight-restricted or posted bridges – many in rural parts of the state where drivers must make long detours.  Urban and suburban areas are seeing greater road congestion because money is not available to keep up with traffic needs.
            “A safe and reliable transportation network is a core function of state government and necessary to a strong economy – we have to find a way to fund our roads and bridges even in these tough fiscal times,” Sen. Corman said.  “This package provides commonsense, well-thought-out funding mechanisms that are fair and reasonable.  And most important, it will allow us to start investing in our transportation system now – rather than putting off much-needed maintenance and construction.”
State Transportation Funding Package Proposed

Wednesday NewsClips

Perzel: We Crossed The Line
Perzel: Knowledge Of Corruption Reached Top Of House
Prosecutors: Fumo Should Get Up To 22 Years
Prosecutor Want Fumo Jailed For 15 Years
NE Table Gaming Revenue Down
Op-Ed: Privatization Efforts Could Benefit PA
Debate Heats Up On Changes To EITC
Op-Ed: Corbett's Right About Schools
Onorato Proposes Deep Spending Cuts, No Tax Increase In Allegheny County
Human Rights Activists Seek Probe Of Abuse In State Prisons
Editorial: Abortion Clinics Bill Puts Up Hurdles
Lawmakers: Time For Remedy To UPMC-Highmark War
PA Supreme Court Will Start Tweeting Opinions, Rulings
GE Transportation/Locomotive To Add Jobs
Senate Passes Harrisburg Takeover 37-13
Harrisburg Takeover Measure Passes Senate
Senate OKs State Takeover Of Harrisburg
HBG Mayor Tries To Hold On To Power In State Takeover
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October 14, 2011

Oct. 17 PA Environment Digest Now Available

Oct. 17 PA Environment Digest now available. Click Here to print this Digest.

Western PA Conservancy Watershed Conservation Program Celebrates 10th Anniversary

Ten years ago, the Western Pennsylvania Conservancy started a program to provide technical assistance to watershed groups around the region. Nick Pinizzotto was the lone employee of what was then known as the Watershed Assistance Center.
This “one-stop shop” was designed to help groups with a variety of water conservation needs-- from learning how to prepare grant proposals to accessing technical resources and planning tools.
(Photo: Watershed staff installs a multilog vane deflector in Tubmill Creek, used for erosion control and creation of fish habitat. Click Here for other photos.)
Pinizzotto finished that first year realizing just how important such a center was for Western Pennsylvania. With its mission and scope of work rapidly expanding, the program and its six full-time employees soon moved to a new office in Blairsville that could accommodate the increasing demands.
The program’s growth continued through what Pinizzotto describes as, “calculated risk-taking that made good business and conservation sense.” Click Here to read more…

Friday NewsClips

Op-Ed: PA Should Recognize National Popular Presidential Vote
Trial: Former Rep. Feese Authorized Political Work
Former Rand Paul Aide To Challenge Rep. Murphy
Judge Overturns Sen. Mensch's Conviction
Another Republican Tries to Supplant Casey
Column: Corbett: A Tax By Any Other Name Is
Editorial: Corbett's School Plan Will Squeeze Public Schools
Bill Package Aims To Assist State System Of Higher Ed
Pitt Links Cap On Tuition Increases To State Support
College Students Facing Debt Burden
LCCC Board Offers Leary New Contract
Scranton Officials Say There Will Be No Bankruptcy
HBG Bankruptcy Approval Unlikely, Markets Call It Train Wreck
Piccola: Harrisburg Takeover Legislation Could Become Law Monday
Questions Abound In Harrisburg's Debit Crisis
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October 11, 2011

Gov. Corbett Outlines Agenda For Education Reform

Gov. Tom Corbett Tuesday outlined his agenda for education reform in Pennsylvania saying, “We are set to start work on one of the most important jobs state government can do-- rearrange our priorities when it comes to education.
            “It needs to be: child, parent, teacher… and just in that order,’’ Corbett said, speaking at the Lincoln Charter School in York.
            Joined by Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis and several legislative leaders in education, Corbett listed his top four priorities for school reform in Pennsylvania including: opportunity scholarships, expanding the Educational Improvement Tax Credits program, improved charter school quality and accountability, and more robust and comprehensive educator evaluations.
            “We can’t guarantee their success, but we owe all students a fighting chance,’’ Corbett said. “We’re talking about our children and we owe it to them to reform the system.’’
            Corbett said his staff worked with legislators over the summer to negotiate reform proposals, receiving support on both sides of the aisle in the General Assembly, but also among constituent groups and communities across Pennsylvania.
            These changes, Corbett said, are designed to foster competition in all schools and increase our students’ overall achievement.
            Investing in a better educational path for students in at-risk situations will ultimately benefit all Pennsylvanians by potentially reducing future costs in corrections and welfare.
            “These are not all new ideas,’’ Corbett added. “Similar programs for education reforms have already been adopted in other states across the nation.’’
            The four proposals include: 

Opportunity Scholarships: Opportunity scholarships will provide a choice in education and will rescue children from failing schools. It’s also an efficient use of taxpayer dollars by targeting funding toward the student, where it will have the greatest impact, rather than providing more money to institutions that have consistently produced poor academic results.
            Students deserve access to educational opportunities that work for them and their learning needs. Pennsylvania has many great schools, but not every school works for every child.
            “Some students are consigned to failure because of their ZIP codes,’’ Corbett said. “They live in the shadow of failing public schools they must attend because their families lack the resources or ability to enroll them elsewhere... Opportunity scholarships provide additional choices for Pennsylvania students.’’
            The governor’s plan includes:
-- An Opportunity Scholarship Program, which would provide tuition assistance for eligible students to attend a public or non-public school of their choice.
-- Eligibility for scholarships would be based on income and residence within the attendance zones of the lowest-performing 5 percent of schools across the state.
-- By focusing on the worst-performing schools and children in the most at-risk situations, this proposal sends tax dollars to where they can have the greatest impact.
-- The proposal ensures accountability by requiring opportunity scholarship recipients to take an assessment to measure academic achievement. The Department of Education will administer the program, including verifying student eligibility and processing of payments.
-- Should a child leave their school district to attend another school, the state dollars will “follow” the child.

The Educational Improvement Tax Credit: For more than a decade, the Educational Improvement Tax Credit, or EITC, has proven to be a successful partnership with businesses, schools and students – helping to give families a choice in their child’s education.
            The program provides tax credits to businesses that provide funding for scholarships and other educational improvement organizations, as well as academic programs and other benefits to students in all schools, from all socio-economic backgrounds, to pursue educational goals and advanced learning opportunities.
            Specifically, the plan calls for:
-- An increase to the EITC to provide greater educational opportunities to eligible students from low- and middle-income families beyond the nearly 40,000 students served each year.
-- The increased EITC will also provide additional funding to educational improvement organizations that can potentially provide benefits to all schools.
-- Program reforms will be proposed along with the increased tax credit.

Charter Schools: Many quality charter schools have also proven to be a successful educational alternative for the children of Pennsylvania for more than a decade. They offer greater flexibility than traditional public schools, which are often limited by statutory and regulatory requirements.
            Specifically, this legislation will:
-- Establish a statewide authorization entity to approve, license or and oversee charter schools.
-- Make it easier to convert buildings to charter schools.
-- Improve the current payment mechanism of charter schools.
-- Increase accountability provisions on charter schools to require academic performance and it will require charter school officials to comply with the state’s ethics and financial responsibility laws.

Educator Evaluations: The biggest flaws of the current teacher evaluation system are that it covers only two extreme ends of the teacher performance by offering “satisfactory” and “unsatisfactory’’ ratings, providing no useful feedback to allow educators to modify their practices to benefit students.
            The most recent reports for the 2009/2010 school year evaluations indicate that 99.4 percent of teachers and 99.2 percent of principals across the state were rated as satisfactory.
            It is difficult to understand how nearly 100 percent of teachers and administrators are rated as performing well, Corbett noted, yet the results of the 2011 PSSA show 26 percent of students are performing at or below the basic level in reading, and 23 percent are performing at or below the basic level in math.
            Pennsylvania needs a comprehensive method to provide a fair, credible and accurate measure of educators, Corbett said, rather than “a rubber stamp’’ that allows teachers and administrators to remain in their positions with little true evaluation of effectiveness.
            Recognizing this problem, the state Department of Education has received private grant funds to start a voluntary pilot program to improve Pennsylvania’s teacher evaluation tools.
            One hundred education entities have already signed up for the voluntary pilot program, including 82 school districts, 10 Career and Technical Centers and 8 Charter Schools.
            Specifically, our proposed legislation will build off this pilot program to implement a new statewide method to evaluate teachers, including:
            A new, reliable rating system will be developed to focus on student performance along with traditional observation of classroom practices. Such a system should be the basis for decisions involving merit pay as well as tenure, retention or dismissal of staff.
            Separate rating systems will be developed for teachers, principals and education specialists that will include different measurements and observation tools to help develop a final evaluation for each of them.
            Once all factors are considered, employees will be evaluated as “distinguished,’’ “proficient,’’ “needs improvement,’’ or “failing.’’
            The new rating system will provide educators with targeted resources, support and feedback so they can improve their instruction and subsequently, student achievement.

Tuesday NewsClips

Corbett, Scarnati Don't Always See Eye To Eye
No-Tax Emperor Norquist Has No Clothes In PA
State Lawmakers Wary Of No-Tax Pledge
Conservative Ads Target GOP State Senators
Electoral Vote Reform Brings Out Partisan Rancor
Corbett To Flesh Out His Education Agenda
Op-Ed: Diverting Funds To Charter Schools Hurts Progress For All
Schools Confused By New Criminal Record Disclosure Law
Editorial: Private-Public Initiatives OK, Do We Need A Task Force?
Delaware Basin Fears Loss Of Refineries
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October 7, 2011

Oct. 10 PA Environment Digest Now Available

Oct. 10 PA Environment Digest now available. Click Here to print this Digest.

Ohio River Watershed Celebration Attracts Nearly 1,000, Recognizes Partnerships

The 2011 Ohio River Watershed Celebration was held on September 22 attracting nearly 1,000 attendees who toured the region’s three rivers and discussed past, present and future goals and successes in protecting and improving Western Pennsylvania’s Ohio River watershed.
The celebration, a free event and open to the public, will take place on board two Gateway Clipper Fleet boats.
Representatives from business, industry, grassroots watershed groups, foundations, colleges, universities, scientific societies, non-profits, and local, state and federal government will attend. The cruise will feature more than thirty displays from these organizations, providing an opportunity to discuss their contributions to conserving energy and protecting the environment.
Recognizing Partnerships
Awards were presented to organizations and individuals recognizing them for their exemplary efforts to restore and promoting our region’s streams and rivers as a valuable resource. The awards were presented to Joan Jessen, the Allegheny Land Trust, Monoca Borough and Michael Baker, Jr. Inc. Click Here to read more…

Friday NewsClips

Editorial: Is Corbett Too Dependent?
Turzai Picks Up Some Senate Support For State Store Sale
Area Legislators Favor Selling Liquor Stores
2 State Senators Back LCB Privatization
More Senators Support Liquor Store Privatization
Keystone Progress Mounts Campaign On Corbett School Plan
Editorial: Electoral Vote Changes Matter Of Conscience
Metcalfe Pushes For Right To Work
The Rise, Fall Of Dwight Evans?
State System Seeks 2.1 Percent Increase In State Funding
CCAC Downtown Center Closing
CCAC Closing Downtown Location
Raja Vows To End Allegheny County Drink Tax
Harrisburg Still Has Time To Avoid State Takeover
HBG Counsel Attorney Vows To Fight State Takeover
Harrisburg Leaders Offer Ideas On Solving City's Financial Crisis
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