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April 24 TN News Digest

This is a compilation of Tennessee news and political stories assembled daily by staffers in Gov. Bill Haslam’s office. 

Innovation conference aims to foster growth (Tennessean/Allyn)

Entrepreneurs, investors and public officials from around the Southeast will meet on Thursday and Friday at the Sheraton Hotel in downtown Nashville for the Governor’s Innovation Conference. The event will focus on the state’s economic future through speakers, including a keynote address by Gov. Bill Haslam; panel discussions; and presentations from leaders in industries ranging from technology to alternative energy.

T-CAPs to impact student’s final grade (Bristol Herald-Courier)

T-CAP tests in the state of Tennessee won’t just show a student’s achievement level anymore; they’ll also impact their final grade. This is the first year that the test scores will make up between 15 percent and 25 percent of the second semester grades for students. Last year, lawmakers voted to change the law to make the students just as accountable for those grades as their teachers, whose evaluations depend on how well students do on the tests. T-CAPS are given to students in elementary and middle school.

Bills to change selection of Supreme Court judges (Associated Press)

A proposal to amend the Tennessee Constitution to change the way judges are selected has passed the Senate. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Brian Kelsey of Germantown was approved 23-8. It would impose a federal-style system of having the governor make nominations to the Tennessee Supreme Court and give lawmakers the power to confirm or reject. A proposal to amend the state constitution to change the way appeals judges are selected passed the Senate 21-9 last week.

Senate OKs Fed-Style Judge Appointment, Requires Constitutional Change (WPLN)

Monday night the state Senate signed off on a proposal for selecting judges that would let them grill the nominees live, just like the U.S. Senate does in Washington. The change requires a constitutional amendment. The federal style appointment system, where the governor would nominate and the legislature would confirm judges, passed the Senate on a vote of 23 to 8. Voting no was Chattanooga Democrat Andy Berke.

Judicial-Selection Measures Pass on First Run Through TN Senate (TN Report)

Two proposed constitutional rewrites changing how Tennessee selects Supreme Court and appellate judges have been approved in the state Senate. Both measures have a long way to go before becoming law, but the competing proposals hint at divisions within the Republican Party, the Legislature and the public at large as to how the state should choose its most powerful judges. The upper chamber on Monday voted 23-8 to revamp the current system by enacting a system that gives the Legislature authority to approve or reject judges the governor appoints, much like the federal system where the president appoints and the Senate confirms.

Amazon.com sending tax notices to Tennessee customers (TFP/Pare)

Amazon has begun emailing notices to all its Tennessee customers that they may owe taxes on their purchases. The action by the online retailing giant easily involves thousands of Tennesseans, and it could spur some people to pay the tax that’s often overlooked or ignored by consumers. “It would be extra money for the state,” said Billy Trout, a spokesman for the Tennessee Department of Revenue. Amazon’s move stems from a provision included in a law signed by Gov. Bill Haslam about a month ago.

Spring Hill awaits I-65 jam relief (Tennessean/Page)

City seeks extra investment to pay for interchange Mike Perfilio spends 10-15 hours in his car during his weekly commute from Spring Hill into downtown Nashville. To say he’s excited about the state’s widening of a south Williamson County section of Interstate 65 — which he drives on five days a week to his job at Sprint — would be an understatement. “I am definitely looking forward to the widening being finished. Not only because of the extra time I spend in the car; I have two kids under the age of 2, and I want to spend time with them,” said Perfilio, 33.

98 graduate from jobs training program (Tennessean/Haas)

Tennessee will honor almost 100 graduates of a program designed to help people with severely disabilities develop job skills. The ceremony will be at 10 a.m. Friday at the Tennessee Rehabilitation Center in Smyrna, 460 Ninth Ave. The program is designed to help those with traumatic brain injuries, mental retardation and other severe disabilities develop job skills so they can become more independent. Skills range from cleaning and auto maintenance to food service.

Screaming Eagle trail is TN’s newest self-guided driving tour (Associated Press)

Tennessee tourism officials have launched the Screaming Eagle trail. It travels 353 miles through the counties of Benton, Cheatham, Davidson, Dickson, Houston, Humphreys, Montgomery and Stewart. It is the 13th of 16 self-guided driving tours in the Discover Tennessee Trails & Byways program. There are 76 sites, including Fort Campbell, the Loretta Lynn Ranch and Fort Donelson. The name is from the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell.

Tennessee trout hatcheries facing threat of cuts — again (News-Sentinel/Simmons)

On a recent morning, a Tennessee Wildlife Resources Agency hatchery truck backed up to the Clinch River below Norris Dam and dumped a load of rainbow trout. The trout had come from the Dale Hollow National Fish Hatchery in Celina, Tenn., which each year supplies 160,000 fingerling-sized rainbow trout to the Norris Dam tailwaters, along with all of the brook trout and brown trout that are stocked in the river.

Tenn. court decision may finally end Fisk art case (Associated Press/Burke)

Fisk University may soon be able to generate cash from its 101-piece art collection donated by the late painter Georgia O’Keeffe. On Monday, the Tennessee Supreme Court announced that it would let stand a ruling allowing the historically black university to complete a $30 million deal to sell a 50 percent stake in the collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum in Bentonville, Ark. The decision may mean the legal battle that’s lasted more than a decade is all but over.

TN Supreme Court clears way for Fisk art sale (Tennessean/Hall)

Fisk University cleared what could be the last hurdle in a seven-year court battle to sell a $30 million stake in its famed art collection — a sale one school trustee says it needs to survive. The Tennessee Supreme Court announced Monday that it won’t hear the state attorney general’s appeal to keep the collection in Nashville full time, which sends the case back to Davidson County Chancery Court for little more than paperwork before the art can be sold. The court battle revolved around Georgia O’Keeffe’s 1949 donation to Fisk of 97 pieces from the estate of her late husband, Alfred Stieglitz, and four of her own paintings.

Appeals court upholds ruling favoring Fisk $30M Stieglitz deal (CP/Greenberg)

After years of wrangling in court, Fisk will be able to sell a half share of their Alfred Stieglitz Art Collection to the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Ark., for $30 million. The Tennessee Court of Appeals denied the state attorney general’s most recent appeal of the sharing agreement. Fisk president Hazel O’Leary called that decision a “life extension” for the cash-strapped university. “I’m delighted with this decision,” O’Leary said.

Supreme Court Denies Attorney General’s Motion to Appeal Fisk Art Deal (WPLN)

The long court battle over whether Fisk University can sell a stake in a valuable art collection may be coming to an end. Artist Georgia O’Keefe gave the 101-piece Stieglitz Collection to Fisk in 1946 with the stipulation that it could not be sold. At issue for the last several years has been whether Fisk can accept 30 million dollars to share the art with Crystal Bridges museum in Arkansas. The state Attorney General has contended that the sharing agreement violates O’Keefe’s instructions, but last ruling in the case was in Fisk’s favor, and now, the Tennessee Supreme Court has decided the Attorney General will not be allowed to appeal.

Special Court sought to assist former veterans arrested for a crime (CA/Connolly)

A coalition of veterans and their advocates is seeking Shelby County funding to create a special Veterans Court program to help former warriors arrested for crimes. They say the Veterans Court concept reflects the fact that some combat veterans have psychological trauma that contributes to domestic violence, drug and alcohol abuse and other problems. Dozens of Veterans Courts have already been established around the country.

Tradition of Secret Budget Meetings Alive in Tenn. (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee lawmakers’ long tradition of meeting secretly to hash out budget plans is alive and well. House Majority Leader Gerald McCormick confirmed to The Associated Press that key legislators met for several hours at a Nashville restaurant on Sunday to work through budget amendments. “There have been secret meetings, I’m not going to deny,” McCormick, R-Chattanooga, said Monday. “There’s been a lot of secrecy for 200 years. I don’t think it’s any worse than it’s always been.”

Capitol Hill Conversation-Strange Days (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Lawmakers at the State Capitol are eager to go home—so much so they’re going to try to wrap everything up this week. That means the gears of government turn a little faster. The House and Senate will kick into overdrive, likely passing reams of legislation in a few days. It’s a strange time-where controversial proposals come out of nowhere and legislation thought long dead suddenly rises from the grave. WPLN’s Bradley George talks with Capitol reporter Joe White about the Legislature’s attempt to wrap up.

House GOP rejects floor vote on guns bill (Associated Press/Schelzig)

Tennessee House Republicans overwhelmingly oppose holding a floor vote on a contentious proposal to guarantee workers the right to store firearms in vehicles parked on company lots regardless of their employers’ wishes, The Associated Press was told on Monday. House Republican Caucus Chair Debra Maggart, R-Hendersonville, declined to talk about the meeting with a Tennessean reporter, saying she had promised to keep the discussions confidential. “We made a decision as a group,” she said.

Gun bill fails to get to Tennessee Senate floor (AP, Times Free-Press/Sher)

A Democratic-led Senate effort to bring a controversial guns-in-parking lots bill directly to the Republican-controlled chamber’s floor failed Monday night. Senate Minority Leader Jim Kyle, D-Memphis, vowed to push the motion again today when the Senate meets. No similar effort was made in the House to push a stalled House version of the measure. In the Senate, a bipartisan group of 17 senators, including five Republicans, voted for Kyle’s motion to put the National Rifle Association-backed bill on the calendar of bills to be heard on the Senate floor today.

House Republicans Quietly Blocks Guns-in-Trunks Bill (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

Republicans in the state House appear to be bowing to pressure from Governor Bill Haslam and blocking an NRA-backed bill that allows people to store weapons in their vehicle while at work. GOP caucus members met behind closed doors prior to Monday night’s floor session. House members are not speaking openly, but one unnamed lawmaker tells the Associated Press that a poll taken among members was heavily against voting on the so-called “guns in trunks” bill.

Administration Wants to End Special Tax Incentive for Border Cities (WPLN)

Tennessee cities near bordering states would no longer be able to reroute sales tax revenue for private development projects. Legislation has surfaced in the General Assembly to undo tax incentives created just last year. It’s called “tax increment financing,” widely used in Nashville to encourage development downtown. But in Davidson County, the tax breaks are based on a local tax. In the waning hours of last year’s General Assembly, lawmakers created a way for border cities to funnel state tax revenue to certain projects.

Bill Allows Tenn. to Join Health Care Compact (Associated Press)

A proposal that would allow Tennessee to join an interstate compact challenging the federal health care law is advancing in the House. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Mark Pody of Lebanon was approved 8-3 in the House Finance Subcommittee on Monday. The companion bill passed the Senate 22-9 last year. The legislation would provide a waiver for each participating state to create its own health care system.

TN House votes in conservatorship protections (Tennessean/Roche)

The state House voted unanimously Monday for a bill that its sponsor vowed will be a small but important first step to protect citizens targeted to have their lives placed under the control of conservators. The bill stems from the case of 82-year-old Jewell Tinnon of Nashville, who lost a life’s worth of possessions, including her house and car, after being placed in a conservatorship that was later dissolved.

Bill to include embryo as human in assault (Associated Press)

The embryo of a pregnant woman who is assaulted would also be a victim under a proposal that’s headed to the governor for his consideration. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet was approved 28-2 in the Senate on Monday evening. The companion bill passed the House 80-18 last week. Beavers said the proposal is necessary to punish a person for two counts of homicide or two counts of assault. Under current law, the fetus is included as a human being.

Embryo bill passes TN Senate (Tennessean/Sisk)

Measure would extend murder and assault laws to the earliest stages of pregnancy The state Senate approved legislation that extends Tennessee’s murder and assault laws to the earliest stage of pregnancy, sending the bill to Gov. Bill Haslam for his signature. The Senate also pushed ahead a proposal to let the governor appoint judges while rejecting a proposal to let him pick the state’s attorney general. Senators voted 28-2 Monday night for a measure that passed the state House of Representatives last week allowing prosecutors to add a second murder or assault charge when a pregnant woman and an embryo she is carrying are harmed.

Bill authorizes prosecution for death of an embryo (News-Sentinel/Humphrey)

The Senate approved and sent to Gov. Bill Haslam on Monday legislation that allows criminal prosecution for causing the death of “a human embryo or fetus at any stage of gestation in utero.” The bill (HB3517) marks the second change in two years to a law that since 1989 had it a crime to cause the death of a “viable fetus.” That was changed last year to eliminate the word “viable.” Sen. Mae Beavers, R-Mount Juliet, the sponsor, said legislators have since learned that, under the scientific definition of a fetus, the term only applies when eight weeks or more has passed since conception.

Assault on a Pregnant Woman Would Be Two Charges Under New Law (WPLN)

The state Senate passed a bill last night to fine-tune the definition of a fetus involved in a homicide. The accused would face two charges of homicide if an embryo dies along with the mother. The new wording updates a law passed last year to make assault or murder of a woman a dual charge if she were pregnant. The new version drops language protecting abortions. Instead it exempts legal medical or surgical procedures. Memphis Democrat Beverly Marrero stood her ground as a long-time advocate of abortion rights.

Bill to drug test for Tenn. welfare advances (Associated Press/Johnson)

A proposal to require drug testing as a condition for receiving welfare advanced in the House on Monday after the sponsor refused to accept an amendment to drug test lawmakers. The measure sponsored by Republican Rep. Julia Hurley of Lenoir City was approved on a voice vote in the House Finance Committee. The companion bill is awaiting a vote on the Senate floor. The proposal differs from original legislation that the state’s attorney general said was constitutionally suspect.

Bill to change selection of AG fails in Senate (Associated Press)

A proposal to amend the Tennessee Constitution to change the way the state attorney general is selected has died this session. The measure sponsored by Republican Sen. Mae Beavers of Mt. Juliet failed to get a majority when it received a vote of 16-15. Under the proposal, the governor would appoint an attorney general and the Legislature would confirm that person. Currently, attorneys general are selected by state Supreme Court justices.

House refuses municipal-school referendum amendment (C. Appeal/Locker)

Appoints conference committee to work out differences with Senate The state House declined again Monday to adopt a Senate amendment that would authorize the Memphis suburbs to hold referendums this year on creating new municipal school districts. Instead, the House agreed to create its half of a House-Senate conference committee to try to work out an agreement on the bill before the legislature adjourns its 2012 session.

Legislature Targets 18-21-Year-Olds in Liquor Stores (TN Report)

The General Assembly passed a bill last week to stiffen penalties for people 18 to 21 who refuse to leave a liquor store at the request of the owner. The bill, HB2459/SB2544, was originally much more strict and required that anyone under the age of 21 be accompanied by someone over the drinking age. It was amended to its current form. “A person may be charged with a criminal trespass if the person is between 18 and 21 years, visibly intoxicated, or otherwise disruptive, once the owner of a retail package store has asked the person to leave and the person remains,” said Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, sponsor of the bill.

Harwell presides despite broken ankle (Associated Press)

Speaker Beth Harwell presided over the House chamber Monday despite breaking her ankle earlier in the day. Harwell spokeswoman Kara Owen said the Nashville Republican injured herself while walking her dog Monday morning. Harwell wore a brace on her left leg. She was pushed down the center aisle of the House chamber in a wheelchair when members took a break for caucus meetings. Lawmakers hope to adjourn the 107th General Assembly this week.

TN’s teen drivers pay price for inexperience (Tennessean/Wilemon)

Brittany Leedham points to the stains on a hackberry tree. “This is my blood,” she says. Rain cannot wash it away. She was in a speeding convertible Mustang GT with her boyfriend on Nov. 29, 2008 — the Saturday night after Thanksgiving — when Zak Kerinuk lost control. The car wrapped around the tree like a crushed Coke can. He died. She almost did. Her flesh embedded into the bark of the hackberry. One leg was degloved of tissue, and she lost half her blood.

Scottie Mayfield kicks off 3rd District campaign tour (Times Free-Press/Poulisse)

Scottie Mayfield hit the road for most of Monday, and said he will be back on it today to pitch his candidacy to the 3rd Congressional District seat. The Athens, Tenn., dairy executive kicked off his campaign with a bus tour through several counties, including McMinn, Marion, Polk and Hamilton. The road trip continues today. His bus was parked just off Riverfront Parkway in downtown Chattanooga about 3:30 p.m. Mayfield addressed a small group of constituents, a crowd he said was small considering the size of Chattanooga.

Insurers Alter Cost Formula, and Patients Pay More (Wall Street Journal)

Despite a landmark settlement that was expected to increase coverage for out-of-network care, the nation’s largest health insurers have been switching to a new payment method that in most cases significantly increases the cost to the patient. The settlement, reached in 2009, followed New York State’s accusation that the companies manipulated data they used to price such care, shortchanging the nation’s patients by hundreds of millions of dollars.

Stress Rises on Social Security (Wall Street Journal)

Social Security, which pays retirement and disability benefits to 56 million Americans, will exhaust its reserves by 2033, three years sooner than previously estimated, a new government report said Monday. The forecast raises pressure on the White House and Congress to tackle the entitlement program, which many politicians fear changing because of potential voter backlash. The trustees who oversee Social Security’s two trust funds—one for disability benefits, the other for retirees—said reserves for the fund that pays disability benefits would be exhausted by 2016, two years earlier than projected last year.

State courts replacing paper with electronic record-keeping (Stateline)

When lawyers bring a case before the Texas Supreme Court, they don’t just have the option of filing their documents electronically; they are required to do so. That’s how far the Texas court has gone toward converting itself from a paper-intensive to a paperless operation. It hasn’t been easy. Some of the judges still insist on taking the electronic documents and printing them out to read page-by-page. “We are in a profession that likes its traditions, and I think that adds to some of the resistance to change,” says Blake Hawthorne, the court clerk.

Regulators to review Sequoyah safety Tuesday (Associated Press)

The Nuclear Regulatory Commission will have an open house Tuesday night in Soddy-Daisy, Tenn., to discuss the safety performance of the Sequoyah nuclear plant. The commission has already determined that the Tennessee Valley Authority plant operated safely in 2011. NRC inspectors also looked at safety concerns at Sequoyah and other U.S. plants after a March 2011 earthquake damaged the Fukushima Daiichi plant in Japan.

Memphis lost 32,000 jobs from February 2008 to 2012, report reveals (MBJ)

Memphis lost 32,100 private sector jobs from February 2008 to February 2012, ranking it 73rd among on the largest 100 U.S. metros for job gains or losses during the four-year span, according to a new report. On Numbers, an affiliate of Memphis Business Journal, compiled data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics to compile the ranking. According to its data, Memphis had 540,300 private-sector jobs in February 2008 and 508,200 four years later.

Analysis: Nashville down 7,400 jobs since recession (Nashville Business Journal)

Private-sector employment in Nashville has decreased by 7,400 jobs since February 2008, according to a new analysis of U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics data. Despite the job losses, Nashville’s job market between February 2008 and 2012 is the 23rd healthiest in terms of jobs lost or gained. Of the nation’s 100 largest metros, only seven added jobs in that period, according to On Numbers, a Nashville Business Journal affiliate. As a percentage, Nashville’s job base is down by 1.13 percent, the 20th healthiest rate in the country.

BNA Still a Year Out from Pre-Recession Passenger Traffic (WPLN-Radio Nashville)

The Nashville airport is cheering its 20th consecutive month of increasing passenger traffic. But officials caution that the pick-up still leaves activity well below its peak. “Growth” – as airport CEO Raul Regalado defines it – would be more people flying in and out of BNA than did in 2007. “We’re not back to pre-recession levels yet, and probably won’t be there for another year. And then, if it continues to increase, we would be in a true growth mode.”

Rhode Island: Pension Changes Proposed in Providence (New York Times)

Mayor Angel Taveras of Providence proposed a $638 million budget that assumes additional contributions from the city’s tax-exempt institutions and pension system changes. Mr. Taveras called on the City Council to adopt pension changes that he said would save at least $16 million in the coming fiscal year. The changes would also reduce the city’s unpaid pension liability, currently more than $900 million, by more than $236 million, he said. Changes to the pension system would most likely be challenged in court.

OPINION

 

Editorial: TCAP stakes are now higher (Commercial Appeal)

More at stake for teachers and students: Students have more reason to do well on TCAP tests. Scores are now part of their grades. Over the next four days city and county school students will partake in a process that always has high stakes — the Tennessee Comprehensive Assessment Program tests, better known as TCAP. The tests are crucial measures of whether students are meeting proficiency benchmarks on core subjects — reading/language arts, math, writing, science and social studies. TCAP tests also are used in evaluating each school’s Adequate Yearly Progress as required by the federal No Child Left Behind Act.

Editorial: Lawmakers must do no harm as session ends (News-Sentinel)

The Tennessee Legislature is lumbering toward the end of this year’s session with one main priority that should remain on its agenda — passing an operating budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1. Of course, the state’s lawmakers have shown an uncanny ability to get sidetracked on meaningless or unproductive legislation, so meeting the self-imposed Friday deadline for wrapping up the 107th General Assembly is anything but assured.

Editorial: Parenting legislation deserves failing mark (Daily News Journal)

OK, folks. If this isn’t a reason to educate yourself about politics and commit to going to the polls regularly, we don’t know what is. Last week, Gov. Bill Haslam signed into law House Bill 3636 or “parental involvement contract.” It goes into effect this fall. It is basically a contract between parents and the school in which parents promise to sign their kids’ report cards, make sure their children are not absent from school, and attend school functions and parent-teacher conferences.

Editorial: Eldridge keeps his consituents first in line (Jackson Sun)

Congratulations to District 73 state Rep. Jimmy Eldridge, R-Jackson, for being named Legislator of the Year by the Southwest Tennessee Development District. The dedication and effort Eldridge brings to the table rightly have earned him this recognition. Eldridge has worked hard on behalf of constituents and the communities he serves. Many elected officials are taking it on the chin these days as they sink lower and lower in the public’s opinion.

Editorial: Blocking three overprescribers is tiny drop in the drug abuse battle (TN)

Can’t Tennessee do more to stop prescription drug abuse? Shouldn’t it do more? It was reported last week that three of the top 10 prescribers of antipsychotic and pain medications to patients on TennCare have been blocked by that program from filling further prescriptions. It’s heartening to hear that overprescribing is on the radar of TennCare officials along with the Haslam administration, which has proposed legislation to attack drug fraud and abuse on a broad front involving multiple agencies.

Guest columnist: Last chance for justice on Tennessee’s death row (Tennessean)

Just 36 hours away from his scheduled execution, Abu Ali Abdur’Rahman was granted a stay. It was April 8, 2002. It is appropriate that the anniversary fell on Easter, a day of redemption. If ever there were a need for hope, a need for redemption, so it is in this case — for Abu Ali and for our damaged justice system. What is known: • Abu Ali was convicted in the stabbing death of Patrick Daniels after he and co-worker Harold Devalle Miller entered Daniels’ home. • Overworked and ill-prepared, Nashville attorney Lionel Barrett conducted no investigation and failed to present key evidence in Abu Ali’s defense. He later told the American Bar Association Journal: “Abu Ali is on death row because of me. I failed him.”

Guest columnist: The DEA’s war on patients (City Paper)

I am married to a wanted criminal and the Drug Enforcement Administration is hot on her trail! Her crime? She suffers with chronic, debilitating pain and has to take powerful painkillers just to make it through the day. Mind you, my wife Beth is not your typical hardened criminal. She is wonderfully compassionate, trustworthy and has a strong sense of justice. She doesn’t beat people up or rob them. And in all the years I’ve known her, I have never once seen her take drugs to get “high.”

Times Editorial: Reining in health insurers (Chattanooga Times Free-Press)

For years the main constraint on the cost of health insurance premiums for policy holders has been an insurance company’s competitive position vis-à-vis other insurance companies. It didn’t matter whether a health insurer’s top executives drew megamillion salaries and stock options, spent lavishly and flew in corporate jets, or if they limited or denied coverage for their sickest subscribers, or if they spent barely 70 percent of policy revenues on actual health care for their customers.

Columnists: Overturning ObamaCare Isn’t ‘Judicial Activism’ (Wall St. Journal)

Since the Supreme Court’s historic three-day ObamaCare hearings in late March, the president and his supporters have tried to pressure the Justices into upholding that law, asserting that any other decision would overstep the court’s constitutional bounds. Ruling against ObamaCare would not be what the president called illegitimate “judicial activism,” but an appropriate exercise of the Supreme Court’s core constitutional role. “Judicial activism” is one of those agreeably ambiguous terms that can support almost any criticism of the courts.

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