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Texas veterans denounce Texas Monthly’s attack on Rep. Flores for fighting for disabled war heroes 

Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, flanked by leaders of local veterans’ groups, on Thursday, June 11, explained why he took on powerful legislative enemies in order to get his bill passed that will provide up to a 100 percent home property tax break for thousands of disabled veterans. "We veterans, we don’t leave anyone behind, and I wasn’t about to leave these veterans behind," Flores said during a press conference organized by the Veterans Alliance of the Rio Grande Valley. The group chose the Rio  Grande Valley State Veterans Cemetery in Mission as the site for the news event, noting that Flores had also been the principal architect in bringing the state veterans cemetery to the Valley. Despite behind-the-scenes legislative opposition to his measure, Flores, a U.S. Army veteran, outmaneuvered his  political rivals and passed the veterans’ home tax break. Flores praised Texas veterans groups for playing a key role in the measure’s hard-fought success.  See lead story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, featured first on right, was rated as one of the best state lawmakers in Texas by Capitol Inside, a non-partisan web site news service has been a big hit with Republicans, Democrats and diehard independents as well since making its debut online in January 2003. At the conclusion of each legislative session, several political publications and websites name best and worst performers based on their service to their districts and the state. This year, Capitol Inside and political strategists Ted Delisi and Harold Cook compiled top ten lists, each naming Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, as one of Texas’ top ten legislators. Capitol Inside referred to Hinojosa as a veteran legislator that "just keeps getting better."  The Delisi/Cook list noted Hinojosa’s ability to secure funding for District 20 projects, including highway infrastructure, and millions of dollars for health care delivery services. From left, during a recent visit to the Capitol, are Hidalgo County Treasurer Norma G. García, Hidalgo County District Clerk Laura Hinojosa (no relation to the senator), Hidalgo County County Clerk Arturo Guajardo, Jr., and Hinojosa. See story on the Capitol Inside ranking later in this posting. 

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South Texas firefighters were among the dozens of area groups which visited state lawmakers at the Capitol during the recently-concluded five month regular session. On Wednesday, April 1, a Valley delegation brought their issues to Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville. Featured with Lucio, in his office, are, from left: Manuel Vargas, McAllen; Raul R. Zúñiga, Jr., San Benito; Javier Gutiérrez, McAllen; Lucio; Ramón Martínez, San Benito; Jesús Tijerina, San Benito; and Ernest Abrego, Harlingen. Later in this posting, Lucio writes about several key measures approved by the Legislature that will benefit another key constituency – military veterans.  

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The Convention Committee of the McAllen Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is finalizing plans for the 34th annual Texas Association of Mexican American Chambers of Commerce (TAMACC) Convention, which this year will be held at the McAllen Convention Center from July 29 through August 1.  The theme to the convention is “Growing Hispanic Business, for a Stronger Texas Economy”. Featured, front row, from left:  Sam Guzmán, TAMACC president;  Froy Garza with Congressman Henry Cuellar’s office; and Salomon Torres with Congressman Ruben Hinojosa’s office. Back row, from left: Rick Carrera, University of Texas-Pan American Small Business Development Center; Dr. John Thomas, MHCC board of directors; Mark Winchester, UTPA’s Director of the Rio South Texas Regional Procurement Technical Assistance Center; Cynthia M. Sakulenzki, MHCC Pres/CEO; Letty Flores with Gov. Rick Perry’s office; Margie Treviño, Southern Minority Supplier Development Council; and María Juárez, UTPA Director of the Small Business Development Center. See story later in this posting. 

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The Edinburg Chamber of Commerce will host a Power Punch @ Lunch on Wednesday, June 24 at the Depot, located at 602 W. University Drive, sponsored by Doctors Hospital at Renaissance (DHR). The business community of Edinburg and the Rio Grande Valley are invited to attend the free networking luncheon from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m.  Persons who attend are being asked to bring their business cards to distribute during the chamber’s most notable social-networking luncheon, which includes food, door prizes and fun. Area residents interested in attending should RSVP by calling 956/383-4974. Featured, from left: Joanna Álvarez, DHR Assistant Director for Marketing; McAllen City Commissioner Jim Darling, who serves as DHR’s legal counsel; Mario Lizcano, DHR Director for Marketing; Marissa Castañeda, DHR’s Chief Operations Officer; and Frank Lara, Membership Director, Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  

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U.S. Senate hopeful Sharp, a Democrat, backs VA Hospital plan for the Valley filed by Rep. Flores

The Texas Legislative Medal of Honor Committee has met and approved Private Pedro Cano of Edinburg as the posthumous recipient of the state’s highest military decoration. "I am pleased to report that the committee has made the formal selection of Pedro Cano to be the Legislative Medal of Honor recipient for the 81st legislative session," said Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg. "Pedro Cano’s heroism will always speak for him but the testimony given by our local veterans and the Cano family was instrumental in moving the committee’s formal nomination." Peña is the author of HCR 5 which would posthumously confer the Legislative Medal of Honor to the World War II hero. Members of the nominating committee are: Texas Adjutant General José Mayorga; Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Speaker of the House Joe Straus; Sen. Leticia Van De Putte, D-San Antonio, who is chair of the Senate Veterans Affairs and Military Installations Committee; and Rep. Frank Corte, R-San Antonio, who is chair of the House Defense & Veterans’ Affairs Committee. After review of testimony and evidence, Mayorga made the motion for the nomination of Pedro Cano. Cano was not the only candidate up for consideration at the hearing held on Friday, May 15. HCR 5 is a step away from being approved, with the Senate scheduled to hold a public hearing on the matter on Wednesday, May 20, with Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, serving as the Senate sponsor. Cano received the Distinguished Service Cross, the nation’s second highest military honor, for his heroism in WWII. Cano would be the second recipient from Edinburg to receive Texas’ highest military decoration. In 2007, Peña passed legislation posthumously conferring the Texas Legislative Medal of Honor to Freddy González, also of Edinburg. González was a Marine sergeant, killed in Vietnam, who was posthumously bestowed the Congressional Medal of Honor.  

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Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, and Rep. Aaron Peña, D-Edinburg, recently greeted a Rio Grande Valley delegation of veterans visiting the Austin Capitol to voice support for their issues, including a Veterans Hospital in the area. "The federal government received a clear message from the Texas Legislature that the Rio Grande Valley needs a hospital for veterans of South Texas," said Peña. "I offer my sincere appreciation to those veterans who traveled to Austin to testify on this legislation and to Sen. Lucio for his work on this issue. Together we are going to get this hospital built. "Featured, front row, from left: Ruben Cantú, Chapter 21 Commander, Disabled American Veterans (DAV), of Harlingen; Sen. Lucio; Rep. Peña; Emilio De Los Santos, Director, Hidalgo County Veterans Department, of Edinburg; Olie Pope, Veterans Service Officer, of Austin; and José A. Leal, Incoming Commander, DAV Chapter 121, of Harlingen. Center row, from left: Homer Gallegos, VFW Post 8788 Commander, of McAllen; and Rey Oropez, Assistant Veterans Service Officer, of Edinburg. Top row, from left: Mike Escobedo, America’s Last Patrol, of Donna; Antonio Arenas, VFW Post 8788, of McAllen; and Nicanoor R. Chávez, American Legion, of Raymondville. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville, recently honored participants of the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run in Austin with a Senate Resolution honoring the yearly event and all Vietnam Veterans. Lucio presented Senate Resolution 863 that recognizes the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run held annually in March to pay tribute to Vietnam Veterans and their return home. "When I returned stateside, I recall that our military flight plane was forced to divert from its intended airport in California to Washington state due to anti-war protests at the original site," said Daniel D. Piñeda of Mercedes, a combat veteran of the U.S. Army who served in Vietnam in 1969. "Once back home in the Valley, for the most part, I, like most other Vietnam veterans, was shunned by the general public. There were no expressions of ‘welcome home soldier’ or anything of the sort." Piñeda explained that the Texas Vietnam Memorial Highway Motorcycle Run "serves to help the Vietnam veterans who were never welcomed home decades ago, but rather, if you would, just swept under the rug. As we ride from town to town in Texas along U.S. Highway 83, we see people, complete strangers, lined up cheering, waving and shouting ‘welcome home.’  It’s the patriotic display of our nation’s people honoring its forgotten veterans." Featured, front row, from left: Marietta Johnston of Junction: Alex Armendáriz of Pflugerville; Brent Jackson, founder of the Run, of Wolfforth; Richard Scibek of Houston; and Hazel Webb of Slaton. Back row, from left: Keeton Johnston of Junction; Mr. and Mrs. Pablo Aguillón of Crystal City; Sen. Lucio; Stephen Arthur of Amarillo; Brenda Jackson, co-founder of the Run, of Wolfforth; Kim Felix of Austin; Lester Nye of Granbury; Chuck Bayes of Houston; and Woody Webb, of Slaton. See story later in this posting.

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Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured left, accepts the "Leadership Award", bestowed by The Rio Grande Council, Boy Scouts of America, from his mentor, former Texas Comptroller John Sharp, who is accompanied by Ernesto Carballo, Scout Executive and CEO for the Rio Grande Council, Boy Scouts of America. The public ceremony was part of a fundraiser dinner for scouting in deep South Texas. The event, which was part of the scouts’ national Centennial Celebration, was held on Thursday, May 14, at The Club at Cimmaron. The successful gathering helped raise about $50,000 for Valley scouting efforts. The “Leadership Award” has been designated by the Rio Grande Council, BSA as an award to be presented to a civic, community, or business leader who has demonstrated patriotism, leadership, and service at a local, state, or national level. Sharp, who served as the keynote speaker, later said he said Valley hopes for a Veterans Administration Hospital would be greatly improved if Texas had at least one Democratic U.S. senator in Washington. Sharp is an announced Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate. U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, is expected to vacate her seat in the coming months in order to campaign for governor in the March 2010 Republican Party primary. See lead story on Sharp’s support for a state-federal partnership to build Valley VA Hospital, as envisioned by state legislation by Rep. Ismael "Kino" Flores, D-Palmview, and how Sharp says he can make a difference on that goal in securing federal funding because of his Democratic Party affiliation. 

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House passes bill by Rep. Martínez to protect Texas’ $159 million citrus industry from new plant plague

 

Hidalgo County leaders on Friday, May 1, commemorated the historic infusion of about $300 million in federal funds for the Hidalgo County Levee Rehabilitation Project during a special recognition ceremony and press conference at the Hidalgo Pump House Museum and World Birding Center Nature Park.  Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas, III, featured first on right, released an economic impact study, commissioned by his office and conducted by Sai Mullapudi of the University of Texas-Pan American’s Data and Information Systems Center Division of Community Engagement, that highlighted the economic impact of the levee upgrades.  The study indicates that the entire levee rehabilitation project, when completed, will produce nearly 5,000 local jobs and generate $508 million in economic impact. From left, in this photograph, are: Ron Vitiello, chief for the Rio Grand Valley Border Patrol sector; Mayor John David Franz of Hidalgo; Congressman Henry Cuellar, D-Laredo/McAllen; and Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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May marks National Mental Health Month and to recognize the month-long health campaign in the Rio Grande Valley, the South Texas Behavioral Health Center hosted an advocacy reception for community leaders on Friday, May 1. Area leaders spanning from law enforcement, military, elected officials, health care practitioners and social service providers attended the event in recognition of the advancements and challenges of mental health care in the Valley. Standing, from left, are: Solomon Torres, District Director for Congressman Rubén Hinojosa, D-Mercedes; Doug Matney, Vice President of Acute Care and Group Director for South Texas Health System; César Matos, MD; Joe Rodríguez, CEO for South Texas Behavioral Health Center and Michael Sauceda, Business Development Director for South Texas Behavioral Health Center. See story later in this posting. 

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Manuel Garcia and Johnny Rodriguez, two of the board members for Edinburg Child Care, Inc., a non-profit business dedicated to providing nutrition and education services to children in day care homes, display a cake that helped mark the 25th anniversary of the local entity.  The local firm, which helps generate a multi-million dollar economic impact for the region, hosted a celebration in the Edinburg/San Manuel region on April 25, 2009, as a treat for many of its participants. Operations consist of reimbursements to day care homes and day care centers for meals served to children under their care and administrative costs.  All seed funds/startup costs were provided by Romeo Villarreal, a local businessman and educator. The policy-making board of directors oversees the program, which is administered by an executive director. Since 1991, this program has generated between $2 million to $2.3 million dollars annually and disbursed to providers from Corpus Christi to Laredo, to Brownsville and the Rio Grande Valley. Three hundred to 500 small business owners of day care centers are being supplemented annually through this agency. Edinburg Child Care, Inc. is located 2002 West University, Suite 3, Edinburg, 78539. They may also be contacted by telephone at 956/383-6789; by fax at 956/383-6888; and toll-free at 1/800-281-6780. Mary Villarreal, the company’s executive director, may also be reached via Internet mvillarrealmmv@sbcglobal.net or edinburgchildcare@hotmail.com. 

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The Texas Senate on Monday, May 4, unanimously voted for Senate Bill 1443 by Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, Chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee,  that would provide financial relief to students and their families, while recognizing the shared responsibility of the legislature and higher education institutions to keep college affordable and accessible without sacrificing excellence. The bill focuses on total academic costs, not simply on tuition; caps increases and links them to formula funding; offers an optional 4-year guaranteed tuition rate; includes additional cost-cutting measures; and establishes legislative oversight. See story later in this posting. 

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Asian citrus psyllid nymphs, shown here in their development stages by a U.S. Department of Agriculture photograph, can live on citrus trees that are infected with the Citrus Greening Disease and can acquire that plague just before reaching the adult stage. Once that happens, those insects can immediately transmit the disease to uninfected trees, which ruin the trees and citrus.  The greening disease, which has not yet been detected in Texas, could devastate the state’s $159 million citrus industry, most of which is located in Hidalgo County. A bill by Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, has been passed by the House of Representatives. The measure would give the Texas Department of Agriculture the needed policy powers to help citrus growers prevent a potentially-devastating outbreak of this plant disease. See lead story later in this posting. 

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House approves plan by Rep. Flores to use state agencies, other resources to build Valley VA Hospital

Al Ramírez, Edinburg’s first Mexican American mayor who served from 1963 to 1967, passed away on Wednesday, April 22. The groundbreaking mayor, shown here last August 21 during a campaign kick-off for Edinburg school board trustee Carmen González, was credited for helping desegregate public swimming pools, among many other achievements. "We lost one of the great men of the Valley," said former Rep. Alejandro Moreno, D-Edinburg. "He was a descendant of pioneer families. He was a former mayor of Edinburg who welcomed the striking Rio Grande City Farm workers from a hospital bed on their 1966 march to Austin. He was a life long educator who helped develop bilingual curricula in the 1970’s. He also published history and genealogy books and had a great sense of humor. May he Rest in Peace." See obituary later in this posting. 

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Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Massachusetts, a guest of Mayor Joe Ochoa during Kennedy’s visit to the University of Texas-Pan American in February 2008, accepted a replica of the community’s All-America City Award, a symbol of some of many achievements generated during the leadership of Ochoa, who is not seeking reelection. Ochoa, who a few days after Kennedy’s visit welcomed then-presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama, D-Illinois, to the three-time All-America City, will be making one of his final official appearances as mayor on Thursday, May 7, as part of the National Day of Prayer. The prayer breakfast, which will take place from 6:30 a.m. to 8 a.m., will be held at The Social Steak House and Club, 205 Conquest Boulevard in Edinburg.  There is a $15 fee, which includes breakfast along with a special gift to the first 150 people, courtesy of the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce.  For more information or to RSVP call the Edinburg Chamber of Commerce at 956/383-4974.  

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United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison, featured second from left, a 1966 alumnus of the University of Texas-Pan American, came back to his alma mater recently to address military cadets in Edinburg.  Garrison became most famous for his role as the commanding officer of Operation Gothic Serpent, the military operation launched in 1993 to capture Somalian warlord Mohamed Farrah Aidid, which ended with the Battle of Mogadishu on October 3, 1993. Actor Sam Shepherd later portrayed Garrison in the film Black Hawk Down, which chronicles the events of the Battle of Mogadishu, regarded at the time as as the biggest single firefight involving American soldiers since the Vietnam War. Featured, from left, at at the Dining-In ceremony for UTPA and UT-Brownsville/Texas Southmost College ROTC cadets are: Colonel (USAR) Christopher B. Rivers, UTPA assistant director of military science; United States Army Major General (Retired) William F. Garrison; UTPA Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Dr. Paul Sale; Cadet Bronc Battalion Commander Vanessa Randolph; and Lieutenant Colonel André Dean, professor of military science and commanding officer of the UTPA battalion.  See story later in this posting. 

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Saturday, April 25, was declared Texas Meningitis Awareness Day under a measure by Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, which was approved by the Senate on Friday, April 24. Bacterial meningitis is an inflammation of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cords. The disease strikes 2,000 to 3,000 Americans each year, and 10 to 12 percent of those infected die. There is also a viral type of meningitis. Lucio also named a bill by Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Fort Worth, requiring bacterial meningitis vaccinations for first-time college students living on campus in this state, the Jamie Schanbaum Act, after the 20-year-old University of Texas student has been hospitalized for the past six months with the less common and more violent version of the bacteria Meningococcemia. Jamie Schanbaum’s mother, Patsy Silva Schanbaum, is originally from Brownsville. Featured on the Senate floor on April 24, from left: Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst; Maureen Moore, of the Houston Area Immunization Partnership and Confederation of Meningitis Organization; Nancy Day, representing her son, Kyle Hendrix (Meningitis survivor); Patsy Silva Schanbaum, representing her daughter, Jamie Schanbaum (Meningitis survivor); Jamie’s brother, Nicholas Schanbaum; Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo; Sen. Wendy Davis, R-Ft. Worth, and Sen. Lucio. See story later in this posting. 

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Weslaco airport legislation by Rep. Martínez set for House committee hearing on Wednesday, April 8

Hidalgo County Precinct 1 Commissioner Sylvia Handy, shown here in early December 2008 successfully championing the extension of the proposed Hidalgo County Loop through her district, on Thursday, April 2, was named in a six-county indictment charging her, her spouse, Juan Gabriel Espronceda, 35, María De Los Ángeles Landa de Hernández, 27, and Eloisa Andrade Uriegas, 58, with harboring aliens for financial gain. An indictment is a formal accusation of criminal conduct, not evidence. A defendant is presumed innocent unless and until convicted through due process of law. Handy has said she is innocent. Following news of her indictment, Hidalgo County Judge J.D. Salinas III released the following statement: “Today, we became aware that Pct. 1 Commissioner Sylvia S. Handy and three others were arrested on the allegation of defrauding taxpayers for personal gain. We will withhold our own judgment, as this is an ongoing investigation and is in the hands of the court system. However, my office has been in contact with Commissioner Handy’s chief of staff to offer our help. My office pledges to the public that all vital public services for the families of Pct. 1 will continue.” Featured in this file photo, to her right, is Congressman Ruben Hinojosa, and to her left, is Salinas. See story later in this posting. 

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Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who serves as the vice-chair of the Senate Finance Committee, led the workgroup on that panel that developed state funding for general government, the judiciary, natural resources, and regulatory services.  The Senate Finance Committee, which writes the Senate’s version of the two-year state budget, on Wednesday, April 1, approved a $182 billion budget, which would cover the period between September 1, 2009 and August 30, 2011. This biennial budget is a seven percent increase over 2008-2009, but nearly half that growth is attributable to federal stimulus money. Actual state spending grows only about two percent per year over the next biennium. See story later in this posting. 

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On September 8, 1993, Gov. Ann Richards appointed the founding South Texas Community College (now South Texas College) Board of Trustees, which included Manuel Benavidez, Jr., of La Grulla in Starr County, who passed away on Saturday, March 28. Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo, whose district includes Starr County, expressed her condolences to his family and friends. "I am profoundly saddened by our loss of Manuel Benavidez, a champion of higher education, economic development and housing, and am among the countless South Texans who will miss him greatly," she said. "His legacy as a regent for South Texas College and the Starr County Housing Authority reflects his lifelong commitment to creating a brighter future for our families." Highlights of his life are featured in an article composed by one of his daughters, which is featured later in this posting. In this 1993 file photo, the founding board of trustees posed for their portrait, including, seated, from left: Rosalinda González and Pearl Mathis; and standing, from left: Glen Roney (vice chair); Manuel Benavidez, Jr.; Dr. Amparo Cárdenas; Gary Gurwitz (secretary); and Rubén Hinojosa (chair). 

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Rep. Armando "Mando" Martínez, D-Weslaco, and Sen. Eddie Lucio, Jr., D-Brownsville, recently welcomed the 2008-09 Leadership Mid Valley class, which visited the Capitol to gain further insight into the workings of state government. Leadership Mid Valley provides opportunities for developing leadership skills and increasing knowledge of vital public issues. Members of this year’s class, from left to right, are: Annette Turner, Nels Anderson, Allison Summersett, Martínez, Priscilla Castañeda, Jesse Colin, Yvonne Chamblin, Vicky De La Garza, Lucio, Mari Avilés, Nancy Peña and Rolando Pedraza. On Wednesday, April 8, a bill by Martínez which would designate the Mid Valley Airport in Weslaco as the emergency headquarters for the Valley during times of natural and man-made disasters will be heard by the House Defense and Veterans’ Committee. See lead story in this posting. 

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