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Vainieri Huttle, Lampitt, McKnight, Holley, Mukherji, Zwicker & Wimberly Bill to Create Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual & Developmental Disabilities Continues to Advance

Legislation Assembly Democrats Valerie Vainieri Huttle, Pamela Lampitt, Angela McKnight, Jamel Holley, Raj Mukherji, Andrew Zwicker and Benjie Wimberly sponsored to create the office of an ombudsman to serve as an advocate for individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities was advanced Thursday by a Senate committee.

“Navigating state and federal laws and bureaucracy can be overwhelming for anyone,” said Vainieri Huttle (D-Bergen), chair of the Assembly Human Services Committee. “For those with intellectual and developmental disabilities, it can be downright frustrating, which can deter some individuals and families from accessing much-needed services that may be available to help them. This is counterproductive and in no one’s best interest. By creating an ombudsman to help guide them through the state and federal labyrinth of services, we can help individuals become more self-sufficient, thriving members of the community.”

The bill (A-3824) would establish the independent Office of the Ombudsman for Individuals with Intellectual or Developmental Disabilities and Their Families in, but not of, the Department of the Treasury. The ombudsman is to be appointed by the governor.

“The loved ones of individuals who have intellectual and developmental disabilities want them to be able to take advantage of all the programs and services available, but doing the research alone is like a full-time job,” said Lampitt (D-Camden/Burlington). “Having a single office people can contact with questions and concerns will be invaluable.”

“All New Jersey residents with intellectual and developmental disabilities deserve the opportunity to live happy, healthy lives,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “It’s so important that these individuals and those who care for them know how to access the resources that can make that possible.”
“The services New Jersey makes available to those with disabilities can only be useful if people know they exist and understand how to access them,” said Holley (D-Union). “The ombudsman will be dedicated to knowing the issues that affect individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities thoroughly and making it easier for people to access health care, pursue an education, seek employment and live independently.”

“Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities require a strong support system in order to thrive and reach their full potential,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Establishing this office will fortify that system and open doors for more New Jersey residents.”

“Parents and guardians who are raising children with disabilities face challenges that can often make them feel alone and helpless,” said Zwicker (D-Somerset/Mercer/Hunterdon/Middlesex). “Knowing the ombudsman is there to help will provide peace of mind as they navigate what may seem to be a complex and daunting system.”

“Individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities have a right to the opportunity to thrive and be happy,” said Wimberly (D-Bergen/Passaic). “This legislation will help parents, caregivers, educators and everyone involved in the lives of people with disabilities access tools to ensure that they have the best possible quality of life.”

The ombudsman would organize and direct the work of the office with duties that would include, but not be limited to, the following:

1) serving as a source of information for individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families and interested members of the public, to help them better understand state and federal laws and regulations governing individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities;

2) providing, in coordination with the State Council on Developmental Disabilities: information and support to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families in navigating and understanding the process for obtaining services and support from the Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD) and the Division of Children’s System of Care (CSOC), including information and support for those who transition from receiving services and supports; and assistance in obtaining appropriate, services, support, and opportunities from CSOC or DDD that focus on personal goals and making those goals become a reality;

3) providing information, communication strategies and available options when it comes to resolving disagreements with CSOC, DDD, the Department of Children and Families (DCF) or the Department of Human Services (DHS) regarding the evaluation, placement, or provision of services and supports; and to educate individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and their families;

4) working neutrally and objectively to help ensure that a fair process is followed in the resolution of disputes concerning the provision of supports and services to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities receiving services from CSOC or DDD;

5) identifying patterns of complaints regarding the rights and services of individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities and recommending strategies for improvements; and

6) assisting CSOC and DDD in creating public information programs designed to acquaint and educate individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities, their families, and the public about the duties of the ombudsman.

The bill also would require the ombudsman to issue a written report annually to the Commissioner of Human Services and the Commissioner of Children and Families, which would include a summary of the services the ombudsman provided during the year and any specific recommendations the ombudsman deems appropriate and necessary to provide services and support to individuals with intellectual or developmental disabilities. The report also would be issued to the governor and the legislature.

The measure, which passed the Assembly 68-7-4, was advanced by the Senate Health, Human Services and Senior Citizens Committee. It now awaits further Senate consideration.

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Mukherji, Holley & Gusciora Bill to Exempt Homeless from Fee for a Non-Driver Identification Card Continues Advancing

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assembly Democrats Raj Mukherji, Jamel Holley and Reed Gusciora sponsored that would allow homeless people to obtain, duplicate or renew a non-driver identification card without paying fees to the Motor Vehicle Commission was advanced Thursday by a Senate panel.
The bill was approved 71-0 by the Assembly in April. It was advanced Thursday by the Senate Budget and Appropriations Committee.
“The administration fee is the only thing prevented many homeless people from acquiring identification, when shelters and social services organizations are willing to help these citizens,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson). “Identification will be useful in many ways by allowing them access to services that will help them in the long run. It is a simple, common sense change in the law that can make a huge impact in the lives of our homeless citizens.”
“As we continue looking to combat the scourges of poverty in New Jersey, this is a simple step that can go a long way toward giving homeless people a step up,” said Holley (D-Union). “As we all know, it’s difficult to get a job and other services without identification. We should make it as easy as possible for our most vulnerable residents to acquire it so they can more easily rebuild their lives.”
“We should remove any obstacles that prevent those living in poverty from improving their lives,” said Gusciora (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “If waiving this fee makes it easier for a homeless person to get the identification they need to get a new start, then we should do it. It’s a simple but effective idea.”
Under the legislation (A-2107), the MVC chief administrator may waive the fees for a homeless person who submits proof of temporary residence through either a social worker or the coordinator of an emergency shelter for the homeless where the person is temporarily residing.
Currently, residents who are 14 years of age and older may apply to the MVC for a non-driver identification card, for a fee of $24. The card is issued solely for the purpose of providing identification and is not a license to drive.
The legislation requires the MVC chief to promulgate rules and regulations as may be necessary to effectuate the bill. The bill would take effect on the first day of the seventh month next following the date of enactment.

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Caride, Jimenez, Mukherji, Holley, Benson & McKnight Bill to Ensure Safety of Students in Wheelchairs on School Buses Clears Assembly Panel

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assemblywomen Marlene Caride (D-Bergen/Passaic), Angelica Jimenez (D-Bergen/Hudson), Raj Mukherji (D-Hudson), Jamel Holley (D-Union), Daniel R. Benson (D-Mercer/Middlesex) and Angela McKnight (D-Hudson) to improve the safety of wheelchair-bound students who are transported on school buses was released Thursday by the Assembly Appropriations Committee.
“These students are especially vulnerable,” said Caride, who chairs the committee. “Equipping our school buses with this four-point securement system and requiring bus drivers to ensure that students in wheelchairs are properly secured in the system will make for a safer ride to school.”
“The road can be unpredictable. This helps make school buses safer for students who rely on wheelchairs,” said Jimenez. “Enhancing the safety features on our school buses for students with limited mobility helps ensure that these students get to and from school safely and securely.”
“This bill is quite simply the right thing to do to ensure the safety of all students,’ said Mukherji.
“It’s amazing and concerning that we haven’t done this already, but with this bill we’ll be taking a step toward safety for every student,” Holley said.
“This is basic common sense – every student should get a safe ride to school, and we should do everything we can to ensure that happens,” said Benson.
“This is a long overdue move toward making sure every student gets to school safety,” McKnight said.
The bill (A-1257) requires school buses that provide transportation for students using wheelchairs to have an aide to assist the students and be equipped with a four-point securement system for each student using a wheelchair on the school bus, beginning on Sept. 1 of the second year next following the year of enactment of the bill.
A four-point securement system is defined by the bill as a complete four-point system that includes four wheelchair restraints to secure a wheelchair to the vehicle floor; a lap and shoulder belt that integrates to the rear wheelchair restraints; and floor anchorages installed in the vehicle floor.
The bill requires that students using wheelchairs be secured using the four-point securement system at all times while the bus is in operation, and that the school bus operator or aide secure or cause to be secured a passenger using a wheelchair using the properly adjusted and fastened four-point securement system.

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Holley, McKnight & Kennedy Bill to Ban Sale of Unsafe Supplemental Mattresses Clears Committee

Measure Would Protect Babies At Risk of Suffocating in Cribs, Playpens

Legislation Assembly Democrats Jamel Holley, Angela McKnight and Jim Kennedy sponsored to protect infants from safety hazards posed by supplemental mattresses was advanced Thursday by an Assembly committee.

The sponsors noted that discussions with Warren resident Joyce Davis, whose four-month-old son Garret died while sleeping on a supplemental mattress, helped shape the legislation.

“There is this perception that if a product is sold by a major retailer, it must unequivocally be safe,” said Holley (D-Union). “But we continually hear stories of babies being injured or killed when a supplemental mattress is used in a soft-sided play yard. Manufacturers of this product are quick to deny the obvious harm, while retailers are focused on selling product.”

The bill (A-1139) would prohibit the sale of unsafe supplemental mattresses designed for children’s products, such as cribs, playpens and play yards.

Current New Jersey law prohibits the sale of certain children’s products that have been deemed unsafe by a federal agency or recalled. A violation of the law carries a penalty of up to $10,000 for a first offense and up to $20,000 for any subsequent offense. This bill amends the law to include supplemental mattresses in the definition of “children’s product.”

“It’s simply irresponsible for retailers and manufacturers to continue selling a product known to put babies in grave danger,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “New Jersey’s parents can’t just hope that the industry or the federal government will take action on their behalf when their babies’ lives are at stake. Our state has to step in to protect children.”

“Parents believe that a supplemental mattress will make an infant more comfortable, but the sad, little-known reality is that these products present a serious risk,” said Kennedy (D-Middlesex/Somerset/Union). “Getting supplemental mattresses off the market is part of fulfilling our obligation to keep New Jersey’s children safe.”

Consumers of play yards are advised not to use supplemental mattresses, because a baby can easily fall through the gap between the supplemental mattress and the mesh of the play yard and suffocate, according to the Consumer Protection Safety Commission. Neither state nor federal law prohibits sale of the product, however.

The legislation is consistent with a petition now before the CPSC that calls for a ban on the sale of supplemental baby mattresses nationally.

The measure was advanced by the Assembly Consumer Affairs Committee.

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Mosquera, Holley, Moriarty & Quijano Bill to Promote Communication Between Comptroller, Governor & Legislature Regarding Audits Clears Assembly

Legislation Assembly Democrats Gabriela Mosquera, Jamel Holley, Paul Moriarty and Annette Quijano sponsored to ensure that both the executive and legislature branches are familiar with the steps government entities are taking to increase efficiency recently gained approval from the General Assembly.

“The governor and the legislature determine how much of the taxpayers’ money goes toward certain government agencies,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Mosquera). “The people of New Jersey deserve to know that these agencies are making the best use of their hard-earned money. It’s important that the executive and legislature branches are apprised of all the comptroller’s reviews and thus able to keep state entities accountable.”

The bill (A-1185) would require the Office of the State Comptroller, which is responsible for auditing government finances and examining the efficiency of government programs, to report the findings of audit compliance reviews to the governor and the legislature.

State law requires the Office of the State Comptroller to conduct random audits of the executive branch, including all entities exercising executive branch authority, public institutions of higher education, independent state authorities, units of local government and boards of education. The comptroller reports the findings of the audits and reviews to the governor, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker as well as the entity itself, and issues recommendations for corrective or remedial action. The comptroller also monitors the implementation of those recommendations and conducts a subsequent review to determine whether there has been full implementation and continued compliance with those recommendations, but is not required to report the subsequent review findings to the governor and the legislature.

This bill would require the comptroller to report the review findings to the governor, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker within three years of the initial audit.

“New Jersey can maximize the efficiency of state agencies only if the individuals in a position to shape policies governing those agencies have the information they need to make good decisions,” said Holley (D-Union). “In the same way that legislative leaders receive reports on initial audits, they also should receive reports on subsequent reviews.”

“The state needs the executive and legislative branches to work together in order for government to run smoothly,” said Moriarty (D-Camden/Gloucester). “If both the governor and the legislature receive regular updates on the financial behaviors of state entities, they will be better able to take action on behalf of the taxpayers when necessary.”

“The legislature and the governor have the power to make and enforce the laws that set standards for state agencies,” said Quijano (D-Union). “In order to foster an environment in which taxpayer dollars are used most efficiently, both branches must have up-to-date information regarding the performance of these agencies.”

The measure, which gained unanimous Assembly approval on Thursday, now awaits Senate consideration.

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DeAngelo, Eustace, Mukherji & Holley Bill to Create Registry of Organizations Providing Services to Veterans Advances

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblymen Wayne DeAngelo, Tim Eustace, Raj Mukherji and Jamel Holley sponsored to create a “one-stop shop” for military veterans seeking assistance in New Jersey heads to the Governor’s desk after recent approval by the full Senate, 38-0.

The bill (A-3748) would require the New Jersey Department of Military and Veterans’ Affairs to create a comprehensive online registry of organizations providing services to veterans. Inclusion on the webpage would not constitute an endorsement of an organization by the department or state.

“Men and women in uniform make sacrifices to help people here at home and all around the world, but when they need a little help themselves, they sometimes find the system difficult to navigate,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex), vice-chair of the Assembly Military and Veterans’ Affairs Committee. “Creating a registry is a simple task that can go a long way toward making life easier for some of our nation’s finest citizens.”

“New Jersey must embrace its obligation to honor veterans and do everything possible to serve them, just as they’ve served this nation,” said Eustace (D-Bergen/Passaic). “By providing these upstanding men and women with a directory where they easily can connect to organizations that are familiar with the needs of veterans, the state can eliminate confusion and significantly reduce the amount of time veterans have to spend researching what’s available to them.”

“A single website listing resources for veterans is a common-sense solution that will help those who served navigate the maze of organizations providing services,” said Mukherji (D-Hudson), a former sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps. “We owe it to our vets to help them avoid unnecessary frustration and simplify their access to organizations that understand their needs.”

“Veterans should never have to go searching from place to place to find answers,” said Holley (D-Union). “Putting all the organizations that can help them under one roof is a smart, easy way to support those who answered their nation’s call to serve.”

The measure received unanimous Assembly approval, 73-0, on Sept. 29.

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Houghtaling, Downey, Holley & Muoio Bill to Require Annual Report on Unspent Funds in State Accounts Clears Assembly

Legislation Assembly Democrats Eric Houghtaling, Joann Downey, Jamel Holley and Elizabeth Muoio sponsored to help ensure that taxpayer dollars are allocated and spent efficiently gained Assembly approval on Thursday.

The bill (A-4164) would require the State Auditor to report annually on unspent state account balances.

“When a unit of government says it needs a certain amount of money but then doesn’t use it, it raises concerns about whether projects and programs are being adequately funded,” said Houghtaling (D-Monmouth). “If there are funds idling in a government account, the state ought to examine why that is and perhaps seek more efficient ways to use them in the future.”

Under the bill, the auditor would be required to report to the legislature by Dec. 31 on the ending fund balances of all state agencies for the prior fiscal year. In addition to the amount of unspent funds, the report would include recommendations for addressing the accumulation of funds to avoid waste or fraud and any other information the auditor deems advisable.

“Taxpayers rightfully expect that their money will fund things like education and infrastructure, not just accumulate in a government account,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “An annual report on unspent account balances will foster transparency and help New Jersey use funds more efficiently.”

“Government has a responsibility to manage taxpayer dollars in a way that best promotes the good of the people of New Jersey,” said Holley (D-Union). “With comprehensive data on where funds aren’t being used, the state would be better equipped to achieve that goal.”

“If agencies are leaving money on the table, it could be an indication that programs and services intended to benefit New Jersey residents haven’t been implemented,” said Muoio (D-Mercer/Hunterdon). “Examining money that is not being spent is just as important as scrutinizing the money that is.”

The measure, which the Assembly passed unanimously, now awaits further Senate consideration.

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Holley, Jasey, McKnight and Quijano Legislation to Enhance Security & Safety Measures in NJ’s Schools Goes to Governor

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Jamel Holley, Mila Jasey, Angela McKnight and Annette Quijano to enhance security in New Jersey’s schools and better protect students and teachers from a wide range of potential threats was approved Thursday by the Senate, giving it final legislative approval.
Both bills were approved by the Assembly in April.
“We’ve learned some hard lessons over the years about the dangers facing our schools and our students,” said Holley (D-Union). “It is critical that we educate school staff about the best safety practices, and keep security and safety measures at the forefront when building new schools and renovating existing ones. Investing in the safety of our students and school staff is a must.”
“The prevalence of school shootings in this country has made it abundantly clear that schools need to be prepared to respond to safety threats that were unimaginable in the past,” said Jasey (D-Essex/Morris). “We owe it to students and the staff charged with their safety to give them the resources needed to protect themselves if they are ever faced with a life-threatening emergency.”
“When a school is attacked, people will often ask how the perpetrator was able to get in. This is a valid question and one of many that should be considered when building new schools or renovating existing ones,” said McKnight (D-Hudson). “Making safety an integral part of a construction or renovation project can help better protect schools from indiscriminate attacks.”
“This bill is important because it stresses the importance of preparedness and training for instances when the difference of acting immediately can save lives,” said Quijano (D-Union). “Requiring law enforcement, emergency responders, and all school employees to train together annually ensures that wherever and whenever an emergency situation occurs, we have provided everybody there with the tools and training they need to protect our children. This is common-sense legislation that I’m proud to support.”
The first bill (A-3348) would implement safety and security recommendations from the 2015 New Jersey School Security Task Force report for new school construction projects and existing buildings. The task force determined that “school renovations and new construction must strike a balance between providing a welcoming educational environment and a safe environment in which students can learn and teachers can teach. Well-reasoned school design will encourage proper security measures to be employed by school districts and save the cost of retrofitting buildings.”
By enacting these task force recommendations, the bill seeks to strike that balance.
The bill is also sponsored by Holley, Jasey and McKnight,
Under the bill, the following items, among others, should be considered in the architectural design for the construction of new school buildings: marked school entrances with a uniform numbering system, keyless locking mechanisms, access control systems which allow for remote locking and unlocking, sufficient space for evacuation in the event of an emergency, and areas in the school building intended for public use separated and secure from all other areas.
When it comes to new construction projects and existing school buildings, in addition to employing Crime Prevention Through Environmental Design principles, the bill would require that design plans include items such as a requirement that school security personnel be in uniform, limiting the number of doors for school staff access, having exterior doors remain locked, creating secure vestibules at the school’s main entrance, and using surveillance cameras as a target-hardening tool.
The other bill (A-3349) would revise current law on school security drills. Under the bill, all employees in school districts and nonpublic schools would be provided with annual training on school safety and security. Under current law such training is only provided once to certificated staff members. The bill would also provide that the training be conducted collaboratively by the district or nonpublic school and emergency responders in order to identify weaknesses in school safety and security procedures and to increase the effectiveness of emergency responders. It would also require that a law enforcement officer be present for at least one school security drill in each school year to make recommendations on any improvements or changes to drill procedures deemed necessary.
The bill is sponsored by Holley, Jasey, McKnight and Quijano.
Both bills now go to the governor.

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DeAngelo, Holley, Mazzeo & Downey Bill to Establish Plan to Publish Missing Persons Alerts Goes to Governor

(TRENTON) – Legislation sponsored by Assembly Democrats Wayne DeAngelo, Jamel Holley, Vincent Mazzeo and Joann Downey to expand the reach of missing persons notices via social media was approved 38-0 Thursday by the Senate, giving it final legislative approval.
The bill (A-2519) would require the attorney general, in consultation with the New Jersey State Police (NJSP), to develop a plan to disseminate Amber and Silver Alert information via NJSP social media accounts.
Any other appropriate state, county or municipal entity may also choose to broadcast the information using its social media accounts.
“Just as people use outlets like Facebook and Twitter to connect with friends and family, law enforcement officials can also use social media to reach the public when someone is missing,” said DeAngelo (D-Mercer/Middlesex). “By employing networks we already have in place to further publicize Amber and Silver Alerts, we can reach a far larger audience at no additional cost and help reunite families as soon as possible.”
“Most people connect and receive their news through social media,” said Holley (D-Union). “Using social media to broadcast information about people who have gone missing is so simple, yet so smart. Anyone with a Facebook or Twitter account knows the power of sharing a post or retweeting. In missing persons cases, the more people we can reach can make a difference in the outcome.”
“Being able to get information out to as many people as possible about a missing person is crucial in these cases,” said Mazzeo (D-Atlantic). “Most people are plugged into social media and use it consistently. There is no reason why law enforcement should not be able to use it to spread the word about Amber and Silver Alerts, and help bring people who are in danger safely back home.”

“Law enforcement should be able to use any effective means of communication to help locate people who have gone missing,” said Downey (D-Monmouth). “The fact that these cases involve children and people who are debilitated makes the situation more urgent. This is an effective way to get the word out to the public and increase the chances of finding people who have gone missing.”
Under the bill, information posted on social media may include, but not be limited to, a description and recognizable photograph of the missing person and any known details of the abduction or disappearance.
Under New Jersey law, broadcast media may use Amber Alerts to transmit an emergency alert to inform the public of child abduction. Similarly, Silver Alerts provide for the rapid dissemination of information about a missing person who is believed to be suffering from dementia or other cognitive impairment.
The measure now goes to the governor.

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Mosquera & Holley Bill to Promote Communication Between Comptroller, Governor & Legislature Regarding Audits Advances

Legislation Assembly Democrats Gabriela Mosquera and Jamel Holley sponsored to ensure that both the executive and legislature branches are familiar with the steps government entities are taking to increase efficiency recently was advanced by an Assembly committee.

“The governor and the legislature determine how much of the taxpayers’ money goes toward certain government agencies,” said Mosquera (D-Camden/Mosquera). “The people of New Jersey deserve to know that these agencies are making the best use of their hard-earned money. It’s important that the executive and legislature branches are apprised of all the comptroller’s reviews and thus able to keep state entities accountable.”

The bill (A-1185) would require the Office of the State Comptroller, which is responsible for auditing government finances and examining the efficiency of government programs, to report the findings of audit compliance reviews to the governor and the legislature.

State law requires the Office of the State Comptroller to conduct random audits of the executive branch, including all entities exercising executive branch authority, public institutions of higher education, independent state authorities, units of local government and boards of education. The comptroller reports the findings of the audits and reviews to the governor, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker as well as the entity, and issues recommendations for corrective or remedial action. The comptroller also monitors the implementation of those recommendations and conducts a subsequent review to determine whether there has been full implementation and continued compliance with those recommendations, but is not required to report the subsequent review findings to the governor and the legislature.

This bill would require the comptroller to report the review findings to the governor, the Senate president and the Assembly speaker within three years of the initial audit.

“New Jersey can maximize the efficiency of state agencies only if the individuals in a position to shape policies governing those agencies have the information they need to make good decisions,” said Holley (D-Union). “In the same way that legislative leaders receive reports on initial audits, they also should receive reports on subsequent reviews.”

The measure was advanced Thursday by the Assembly Budget Committee.

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