Senate Democrats Call on Republicans to Immediately Prioritize Gun Violence Prevention Legislation and Appropriations

HARRISBURG – May 25, 2022 – Today, Pennsylvania Senate Democrats wrote the following letter to Republican leaders in response to rampant gun violence and mass shootings that have become too common in the United States. Just this year, 215 mass shootings have taken place in the country, with the devastating shooting that occurred at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas on May 24, 2022, being the 215th

In the letter, the caucus calls on the Republican majority to act on “reasonable and responsible legislation and appropriations” that does not infringe on Second Amendment rights but will help keep guns away from bad actors and support gun violence prevention. Senate Democrats list seven bills that have been introduced to mitigate gun violence but have sat in committee with no discussion or votes. They also highlight how American Rescue Plan dollars and Pennsylvania’s current budget surplus can be used to help communities prevent horrific violence.

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Democratic Senators Intervene in Fracking Lawsuit Against DRBC

BUCKS COUNTY − March 12, 2021 − State Senator Steve Santarsiero (D-10) was joined by Democratic colleagues today in New Hope to announce their action to protect clean drinking water for millions of Pennsylvanians from the environmental hazards of fracking. Their action is in response to a lawsuit filed by Republican senators against the Delaware River Basin Commission to allow natural gas drilling in the Delaware River Basin in Pennsylvania.

Arguing for the constitutional right of millions of Pennsylvanians to clean water, the motion to intervene was filed earlier in the day in United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania in the case of Yaw v. The Delaware River Basin Commission.  Republican caucus members had filed suit against the DRBC in January 2021, and in late February the Delaware River Keeper Network successfully intervened in the case.

“Clean water and air is a constitutional right for all Pennsylvanians, and it’s the duty of the General Assembly to ensure those rights are not infringed upon,” said Sen. Santarsiero. “The people of Bucks County – and the rest of the Delaware River Basin – have a constitutional right to clean, safe drinking water.  We are not going to allow the oil and gas industry to contaminate that water.  Working within its authority, the DRBC has been a steadfast champion for protecting the assets of the Delaware River Basin since its inception.  Thanks to the DRBC and the work of environmental advocates, an incredible amount of progress has been made over the years to clean our waterways and create a reliable source of drinking water for millions of people.  We have come too far to cede that progress to the damaging effects of fracking on our environment and land.”

“The DRBC was created 60 years ago to manage the river system and protect our water resources, including protecting the watershed from the harmful impacts of fracking,” said Sen. Carolyn Comitta (D-19), Minority Chair of the Senate Environmental Resources and Energy Committee. “The DRBC exercised its authority, with all four basin states voting to ban fracking. Individual Pennsylvania legislators don’t get to pick and choose when it comes to the compact’s decisions. We support the DRBC in its decision to ban fracking – one that upholds Pennsylvania’s Environmental Rights Amendment and protects our right to clean water.”

More than a decade ago, DRBC unanimously voted in favor of a moratorium on fracking pending the adoption of new regulations.  Since then, the Commission has received almost 80,000 public comments which have been considered in updated draft rules.

“There is mounting evidence from throughout our Commonwealth that fracking cannot be conducted safely and, in many cases, permanently and completely contaminates our shared drinking water resources,” said Sen. Katie Muth.  “I applaud the Delaware River Basin Commission for preventing this dangerous and harmful industrial activity from rendering the drinking water for 8.3 million Pennsylvanians unsafe and unusable.  Moreover, I am appalled that my Senate colleagues from the Majority Party are willing to sacrifice the health of their constituents in the name of industry profit.  Without water, our homes are rendered valueless, our public health severely deteriorates due to toxic and radioactive fracking waste, and our environment is polluted for generations to come.  I stand in defense of the public health and environmental quality for all Pennsylvanians and strongly oppose any effort to harm our drinking water resources in the name of corporate greed.”

“Clean drinking water is a constitutional right in Pennsylvania, and an imperative to our health and survival as a species,” said Sen. Amanda Cappelletti (D-17). “The Delaware River Basin delivers drinking water to 13.3 million people. We joined the DCRB to maintain the safety of that water. Legislators who are threatening that mission should be ashamed of their thinly veiled attempt at a power grab. The citizens of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvanian and the citizens of New York, New Jersey and Delaware have an inviolable right to keeping this water, their drinking water, clean.” 

Five million Pennsylvanians across 17 counties reside in the Basin, which includes Bucks, Delaware, Montgomery, Chester and Philadelphia counties. The Delaware River Basin spans 6,471 square miles in the Commonwealth, across 522 municipalities.

“I chose to sign on as an intervenor in this case because I know my constituents and all Pennsylvanians take seriously their constitutional right to clean air and water,” said Sen. Judy Schwank (D-11). “It is my solemn and sworn duty to protect that right. This may be our last stand in attempting to protect the waters of the Delaware River Basin from the environmental hazards created by fracking. These waters are a drinking, agricultural and industrial water resource for more than 13 million Pennsylvania, Delaware, New York and New Jersey residents.”

Sen. Maria Collett (D-12) added, “My constituents and I know firsthand what it’s like to have to fight for “pure water” as guaranteed by the Environmental Rights Amendment of the Pennsylvania Constitution and the terror felt when that bond has been broken. The argument made by my Republican colleagues that, as trustees of Pennsylvania’s national resources under this Amendment, they must protect the pecuniary value of such resources over the health and survival of the people and ecosystems dependent on them is not just unconstitutional, it’s inhuman.”

Sen. Vince Hughes (D-7) said, “Protecting the quality of ground and surface water and the future of the Delaware River Basin has broad support from the public in Pennsylvania and the other three states impacted by the Delaware River Basin Commission. Simply put, the commission is acting to protect those interests and the right to pure water. We join in this suit to protect those rights and to prevent adverse impacts from affecting our region.”

In a February 2021 DRBC meeting the 4 member states unanimously voted to ban fracking in the Delaware River Basin. During the special meeting, the United States abstained from the vote, but indicated support for the result.

“My colleagues and I are intervening to fight for the 13 million people who get their water from the Delaware River Basin and protect the Constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and clean water,” said Sen. John Kane (D-9). “The DRBC voted unanimously to ban fracking after hearing tens of thousands of comments over several years — that’s what our communities want, and that’s how to keep Pennsylvanians safe. I’m proud to stand alongside my colleagues in intervening in support of the DRBC.”

Sen. Sharif Street (D-3) said, “The Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision is not only within their authority as custodians of the waters of the Delaware River Basin but is also constitutionally sound. I’m proud to stand with my colleagues to protect our environment and the people of Pennsylvania. ”

“I’m proud to stand side by side with my colleagues in the Senate’s Democratic Caucus in support of the Delaware River Basin Commission’s decision to permanently ban fracking. This hard-fought, hard-won decision was years in the making. It is a victory for advocates, organizers, the millions of people who live within the river basin, and for the river itself. My entire district is not only within the basin, but runs along the Delaware River. I’m grateful to DRBC for protecting the lives and livelihoods of my constituents, and I’m grateful to my fellow Democratic Senators for setting their stakes in the ground with mine.” Senator Nikil Saval (D–Philadelphia)

Environmental groups have long advocated for protecting the Delaware River Basin and for the constitutional right of all Pennsylvanians to clean air and water.  They shared their overwhelming support for the Democratic Senators’ intervention in the lawsuit in written statements.

In a statement read during the press conference, Conservation Voters of Pennsylvania said, “We would like to thank Senator Santarsiero and his colleagues in the Pennsylvania Senate for filing a motion to intervene in Yaw v. DRBC. Thousands of residents and countless elected officials and experts have spoken out in support of banning fracking in the Delaware River Basin.”

Maya van Rossum, leader of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network said, “The Delaware River is irreplaceably important to our entire region.   To allow it to be sacrificed to the fracking industry, to be used to advance the climate crisis, and to be used to help advance an industry that is devastating the health, safety, lives, property values, quality of life and local economies of entire communities is indefensible.  It is even worse that the republican legislative caucus, Senators Yaw and Baker would be seeking to misuse Pennsylvania’s constitutional environmental rights amendment and to deny Pennsylvania’s support for the Delaware River Basin Commission is an abuse of power and trust.  I would like to thank Senator Steve Santarsiero and the legislators of the Democratic Caucus for seeking to join the ongoing lawsuit so they can rise up and defend our river, our environment and the environmental rights of the people of Pennsylvania.”

“PennEnvironment applauds the state senators who’ve come together today from across the Delaware River watershed to stand up and defend this great river,” said PennEnvironment Executive Director David Masur in a written statement.  “Fracking shouldn’t be allowed anywhere, much less near an iconic natural waterway like the Delaware River, which provides drinking water for millions of Americans. Given that local Pennsylvanians voiced their overwhelming support for protecting the Delaware River from fracking during the public input processes, it’s unfortunate that the elected officials who are the plaintiffs in the ‘Yaw v. DRBC’ case are using the courts to undo the will of local residents.

The Democratic Caucus members who have signed onto the lawsuit are Senators Steve Santarsiero (D- Bucks), Carolyn Comitta (D- Chester), Amanda Cappelletti (D- Montgomery, Delaware), Maria Collett (D- Montgomery, Bucks), Wayne Fontana (D- Allegheny), Art Haywood (D- Montgomery, Philadelphia), Vince Hughes (D- Philadelphia), John Kane (D- Chester, Delaware), Tim Kearney (D- Delaware), Katie Muth (D- Berks, Chester, Montgomery), John Sabatina (D- Philadelphia), Nikil Saval (D- Philadelphia), Judy Schwank (D- Berks), Sharif Street (D- Philadelphia), Tina Tartaglione (D-Philadelphia) , and Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia).

 

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Statement: 16 Democratic State Senators Denounce Frivolous Election Lawsuits and Continued Attempts to Undermine our Democracy

HARRISBURG – December 10, 2020 – Today the following members of the Pennsylvania State Senate signed a joint statement – set forth below – denouncing the brazen attempt of the attorneys general of Texas and seventeen other states to disenfranchise millions of Pennsylvanians and voters in three other states by asking the United States Supreme Court to prevent electors in Pennsylvania and those other states that voted for Joe Biden from certifying him the winner when they meet in Harrisburg and the other state capitals on Monday, December 14. 

The statement reads as follows:

“The lawsuit by the attorneys general of Texas, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Utah and West Virginia is based on the outright lie that voter fraud prevented Donald Trump from getting re-elected.  Since Election Day, the Trump legal team has filed scores of such suits trying to overturn the will of the people. Time and again, the judges in those matters – in many cases conservative, Republican judges, some of whom Donald Trump appointed himself – have found that there was no evidence to support those claims and dismissed the suits accordingly.

The bedrock of our democracy is the right to vote and the right of voters to be sure that their votes will be counted.  This lawsuit and others like it are a direct attack on that fundamental principle.  It seeks to perpetuate the lie that the presidential election was somehow stolen.  While partisan politics – and a desire to appease the president’s restive base – may be the motivation for this latest court challenge, allowing it to go forward in silence is dangerous and, we believe, would constitute a dereliction of our duty as elected representatives of the people to uphold the Constitution of the United States and the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

The facts are these:  Joe Biden received over 81 million votes, more than any candidate for president in the history of the United States and about 7 million more than Donald Trump.  He received 80,555 more votes than the president in Pennsylvania.  Mr. Biden received the most votes in 25 states and the District of Columbia, and, therefore, on December 14 when the Electoral College convenes, will be awarded 306 electoral votes, 36 more than the 270 needed to be elected president.  Every vote cast for Joe Biden was cast freely and fairly, whether in person or by mail.  In each state the vote-counting process was transparent and undertaken pursuant to law.  Local and state officials, both Republican and Democratic alike, have attested to those facts, and, as noted, the courts have agreed.  Joe Biden won the election.

Donald Trump has lost his bid for re-election; he seems incapable of accepting that fact.  For the first time in American History, a sitting president who lost re-election has refused to acknowledge his loss, acting instead like a would-be autocrat who cannot accept any outcome that does not have him staying in power.  While that may be a commentary on the character of the man, it cannot be a cause for setting aside the will of the people.

All of us have a responsibility – indeed we would go so far as to say a sacred duty – to ourselves, our fellow Americans and generations to come to prevent the lie that this election was stolen from living on and undermining future elections.  For these reasons we have signed this statement and call upon others to likewise speak out and denounce this lawsuit against our state for what it is: an attack on our democracy.”

Signed,

Senator Steve Santarsiero, 10th District  

Senator Vincent Hughes, 7th District   

Senator Maria Collett, 12th District 

 Senator Judy Schwank, 11th District 

Senator Tim Kearney, 26th District 

Senator Christine Tartaglione, 2nd District  

Sen.-Elect Amanda M. Cappelletti, 17th District     

Sen.-Elect Carolyn Comitta, 19th District  

Senator Jay Costa, 43rd District    

Senator Anthony H. Williams, 8thDistrict

Senator Katie Muth, 44th District 

Senator Art Haywood, 4th District

Senator Sharif Street, 3rdDistrict          

Senator Lindsey Williams, 38th District

Sen.-Elect Nikil Saval, 1st District

Sen.-Elect John Kane, 9th District

PA Senate Democrats Urge Action on Legislation for Working Families, Pledge to Oppose Partisan COVID Task Force

Harrisburg, PA − April 8, 2020 − The Senate adjourned Tuesday afternoon after the House Republicans indicated they would not be taking up Senate Bill 841, legislation that would have enabled local municipalities to hold their meetings remotely, permitted e-notary use; lengthened the time period a property tax payer can receive an early payment discount and delay penalties for late payments to Dec. 31st; and allowed businesses to make delayed payments on EITC. Another important amendment offered by Senator Pam Iovino (D-Allegheny) allowed school districts to renegotiate contracts to ensure contracted school workers can get paid and continue to receive benefits.

The amended SB 841 passed the Senate with bipartisan support. While the Senate Democrats and Republicans chose to put partisan difference aside, the House Republicans were pushing to please special interests and big donors. Intending to use this crisis as leverage, Speaker Turzai and his caucus passed legislation to prematurely allow businesses to reopen during this public health crisis and create a partisan task force to interfere with the Governor’s disaster response, both of which unnecessarily risk lives and threaten to expend the emergency.

“While the Governor and Department of Health Secretary offer leadership on public safety in daily briefings and Democratic members of the PA House and Senate draft legislation to protect working people who are either out of work or employed on the front lines of essential businesses, Republicans are putting lives at risk and undermining the Governor and Secretary Levine’s best efforts to end this crisis,” said Senate Democratic Leader Jay Costa, Jr. “Instead of taking the advice of our Health Secretary, they are trying to slow down our response and hasten the re-opening of non-essential businesses against the guidance of every public health entity in the country.”

The House Republicans were seeking even more egregious measures to provide civil immunity to big businesses, upend school districts ability to pay their teachers, and leave our corrections department employees at serious threat of the Coronavirus. Perhaps worst of all, the language does nothing to protect frontline workers, provide assistance to those that are out of work, or to help small businesses weather this crisis.

In an amendment to Senate Bill 327, House Republicans designed a task force with partisan appointees to usurp the Governor’s ability to rapidly respond to this quickly-evolving crisis. Their bill would require the Secretary of Health to leave PEMA, take hours away from public health crisis planning and defend her work in front of a redundant, political body.

The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support these bills. Alternatively, this caucus will be supporting legislation on the following issues:

  • The American Working Family Relief Action Plan for front-line worker protections (Collett/L. Williams)
  • Protecting workers during public health emergencies (Santarsiero)
  • COVID-19 Food Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • COVID-19 Grocery Store Worker Safety Act (Tartaglione)
  • Payment of contract services in schools (Iovino)
  • Childcare assistance (Schwank/L. Williams)
  • Emergency expansion of the Family Medical Leave Act to provide paid sick leave (Farnese)
  • Crisis grants for volunteer fire and EMS companies due to COVID-19 (Brewster)
  • Require business interruption insurance to cover COVID-19 related business closures (Hughes)
  • Eviction protection for all disaster emergencies (Farnese)
  • Coronavirus disease and schools: allowing for online instruction (Dinniman)
  • Creating a Common Wealth Fund to collect donations from individuals to provide for essential needs of those in need (AH Williams)
  • Providing a presumption of eligibility for Workers’ Compensation benefits for workers that get sick in the workplace (Tartaglione)
  • Ensuring receipt of a stimulus check from the Federal government is not included in an individual’s income for purposes of qualifying for social safety nets (Schwank)
  • Exempting stimulus checks from the Federal government from State and local taxation (Brewster)
  • Collaborating with financial institutions to mandate mortgage loan forgiveness, assistance to homeowners that were laid off due to state emergencies (Farnese)

“While many working Pennsylvanians are suffering from the COVID-19 pandemic, facing lost hours or even complete unemployment, others who find themselves in more fortunate circumstances have expressed a desire to help their fellow citizens by either donating to a local charity or patronizing local businesses,” said Senator Anthony H. Williams. “By establishing the “Pennsylvania Common Wealth” restricted account, taxpayers could redirect all or a portion of their stimulus check to the state, which in turn would be authorized to direct those funds into programs which help the neediest Pennsylvanians – property tax & rent rebates, temporary assistance for needy families, CHIP or medical assistance.”

“Pennsylvania needs solutions that help protect its working people who have been hit the hardest by the fallout of the coronavirus pandemic,” Senator Vincent Hughes said. “We in the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus have put forth a number of policy proposals that would do just that, meanwhile House Republicans have chosen to ignore these needs and push an agenda that jeopardizes public health and puts additional pressure on working people by delaying immediate relief. Our mission should be helping people in this unprecedented time of need and we will remain vigilant in protecting hardworking folks across the commonwealth.” 

“As public servants, our most important duty is to protect the health, safety and welfare of our citizens. This includes making difficult decisions in challenging times. We all want businesses to reopen, employees back on the job, students back in classrooms and some semblance of normal life to resume, but that cannot happen unless we first continue mitigation efforts and follow the advice of our scientists and experts,” said Senator Wayne D. Fontana. “Anything contrary can set back progress and cause further harm on our economy and most importantly, on human health. The bipartisan legislation the Senate approved provides some necessary guidance and relief to local governments, businesses, school employees and property taxpayers during this unprecedented situation. It is unconscionable that House Republicans blatantly disregarded that duty and have chosen not to act.”

“The spread of coronavirus has not quieted the voice of special interests in Harrisburg and that’s tragic,” said Senator Larry Farnese. “Mitigation through isolation is working and we have to recognize that sacrifice through legislation that actually helps front-line workers instead of just saying nice things on social media.”

“This crisis and the Commonwealth’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic requires leadership, transparency and cooperation – not partisan politics,” said Senator John Blake. “While we’ve worked well with the Senate majority on real solutions that actually help people in this crisis, the House majority looks to undermine the executive authority of the Governor as well as the advice of medical and scientific experts regarding public health.  I applaud the work being done by Governor Wolf and his administration to keep Pennsylvanians safe and to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. I will continue to support important legislation to help our business community, front-line workers and medical professionals; and to protect our citizens, schools and local governments across this state. We need to remain vigilant in following the recommendations of the PA Department of Health and the federal CDC.”

“Issues that the Commonwealth was already facing have been exacerbated by this pandemic, and child care services and early learning programs are near the top of the list. Childcare centers are teetering on the brink of insolvency, which is why part of our legislative package addresses early childhood learning and safe, quality childcare. We will not be able to restart Pennsylvania’s economy without this key component,” Senator Judy Schwank said. “Additionally, it’s vital that the income requirements of state programs like PACENET and Property Tax and Rent Rebate are adjusted so that Pennsylvanians receiving federal aid are not penalized later.”

“The key to an effective response to the pandemic is to ensure that our citizens are protected, health risks are addressed, and our economy restarts quickly,” Senator Jim Brewster said. “That’s why I introduced a six-point stimulus plan that will help small business, protect workers and create jobs once we are clear the threat posed by the pandemic. In addition, we need to make sure to address the immediate and long-term needs of first responders and all workers and businesses who are providing essential services during this time of extraordinary stress.”

“There is no segment of our Commonwealth that hasn’t been upended by this crisis. Everything is a priority. But in order to save livelihoods, we must first save lives,” said Senator Maria Collett. “As a nurse, I know firsthand the challenges our health care workers are up against and the urgency of passing legislation like the American Working Family Relief Action Plan for Front-Line Workers. Our doctors, nurses, first responders, senior care aides and others should not have to worry about getting sick or infecting others while performing their essential work.”

“It is irresponsible for the state to reopen businesses at the height of the COVID-19 outbreak. Those who are not essential workers should remain home,” said Senator Art Haywood. We need to do all we can as legislators to support essential employees risking their lives on a daily basis,” said Senator Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia). “I will continue to support the work Governor Wolf and Secretary Levine have done to inform the public to remain safe and stay home.”

“The citizens of Pennsylvania are counting on their elected representatives to save lives by responding swiftly, pragmatically, and in a bipartisan manner to slow the spread of this highly contagious virus,” said Senator Pam Iovino. “To fulfill our duty to the public, we must follow the consensus guidance of public health professionals, focus on protecting front-line essential workers, and put in place protections that allow furloughed or unemployed workers and small businesses to weather the economic disruption.”

“As the Democratic chair of the Local Government Committee, I worked with stakeholders for weeks to craft the provisions of SB 841, I am disappointed these commonsense measures, which passed the Senate with bipartisan support, are being held up by House Republicans for little reason,” said Senator Tim Kearney. “The House should immediately pass SB 841 and focus on bringing relief to Pennsylvanians, rather than sabotaging the Governor’s efforts to keep our families safe.”

“Yesterday, the majority party in both chambers failed to use their legislative power, where they can literally pass any bill they want to, and instead decided to pack up and go home without,” said Senator Katie Muth. “Failing to pass meaningful bills when people are fighting for their lives is simply negligent.”

“Now is not the time to play politics,” said Senator Steve Santarsiero. “Saving lives has to be the first priority.  In order to do that, we must all do our part and follow the Governor’s and Department of Health’s plans as they’ve been explained to us countless times. SB 841 is just one of many ways our caucus has worked in a bipartisan effort to provide relief to those who need it most. However, SB 327 is exactly what our healthcare professionals warn us against. Promoting a premature return to normalcy will only undermine our effort to keep the public safe, and further endanger thousands of lives.”

“Government’s most important role is the protection of its people. Since the COVID-19 crisis the Senate has met three times, with little to show for it. Communities across the commonwealth have no interest in the paralysis of government especially in the most desperate of times.  What they do care about is the protection of our essential workforce, the interruption of our small businesses,  job loss, staying in their homes and educating their children. The only thing that matters is the preservation and protection  of every resource needed to keep families safe during this health crisis,” said Senator Sharif Street.   

 “We need to be back in Harrisburg, we need to get back to work.  We must work together to ensure our communities are protected during uncertain times.”

 “As thousands of Pennsylvanians continue to get sick and hundreds die, now is no time to play partisan politics,” Senator Tina Tartaglione said. “As public leaders, we must unite behind the common goal of reducing the threat of this virus and mitigating the harm being done to our constituents. The package of bills we have proposed will directly help all Pennsylvania families, including essential workers, displaced workers, first responders, school children, those who have become sick, and those in need. I urge all legislators from all political parties to support these bills.”

“Stopping the spread of COVID-19 and saving lives is our top priority. We also need to protect and support our constituents, our communities, and our businesses,” said Senator Lindsey Williams. “Our front-line essential workers – our hospital workers, grocery store workers, emergency service personnel and others – cannot afford to wait for PPE. They needed it weeks ago. Our childcare facilities need our help to stay open and provide care to the children of our essential workers while they risk their lives for us. Our small businesses need financial support to stay afloat. Our municipalities need the ability to meet remotely and make decisions that will ensure the safety of all of residents. There are a lot of needs right now and our constituents do not have time for us to waste playing partisan games or naming bridges. The Senate Democrats have offered concrete solutions that will help people. We should all be working together to get them to the Governor’s desk for signature as soon as possible.”

More information on the work of the Pennsylvania Senate Democratic Caucus during the COVID-19 crisis can be found at pasenate.com/covid19.

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