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N.J. lawmakers want to protect residents from other states’ red-light camera fines

I have been writing in opposition to traffic cameras for a few years now (you can find all of my articles and posts on traffic cameras here).  They are consistently controversial and violative of basic rights as described in the article below.


Jay Lassiter drove back home to Cherry Hill last month after burying his Marine Corps veteran father at Arlington National Cemetery. A few days later, he got a surprise in the mail.  It was a message from Washington. And it wasn’t a sympathy card.

It was a speeding ticket. Two more had come by the end of the week. The Metropolitan Police Department said cameras had caught his Audi speeding on New York Avenue (twice) and on Rhode Island Avenue. He owed $400. Yeah, he was speeding, he said, but in his opinion at least, a 35-mph speed limit on one stretch of road felt as if it should have been set at 55 mph. And besides, this never would have happened back home. New Jersey doesn’t have automated speed cameras.

“Why are we obliging another jurisdiction doing to us what we’ve determined is illegal to do in New Jersey?” said Lassiter, a 46-year-old LGBT activist and freelance writer. (He did pay the fines.)

“Why are we obliging another jurisdiction doing to us what we’ve determined is illegal to do in New Jersey?” said Lassiter, a 46-year-old LGBT activist and freelance writer. (He did pay the fines.)

But if a few New Jersey lawmakers get their way, the state’s Motor Vehicle Commission will stop giving residents’ identifying information to out-of-state agencies — including those in Pennsylvania and New York — trying to cite drivers for speed- and red-light camera violations. South Dakota did the same four years ago.

New Jersey ended its five-year red-light camera pilot program in December 2014 after 25 communities recorded hundreds of thousands of violations. The state did not renew the program.

The cameras are controversial. Officials in communities that have them say they promote safety and discourage drivers from running red lights. Those with laws banning the cameras say the devices are more about making money than safety and infringe on driver’s rights. Both perspectives have support from traffic studies — depending on who was funding them. Judges across the country have thrown out tickets. In 2012, the Chicago Tribune uncovered a bribery scheme between one red-light camera vendor and a city official.

The number of communities across the country that use red-light cameras has been falling. In 2012, more than 530 communities used them, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. About 420 have them now, according to a September report by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, which supports the cameras.

In Pennsylvania, only two municipalities use automated red-light cameras — but one of them happens to be the biggest city in the state. In Philadelphia, 32 intersections have them, and in Abington Township, Montgomery County, three. Both municipalities send all net income to PennDot, which uses the money for safety grants across the state.

The city issued more than 215,000 citations between April 1, 2017, and March 31, according to an August report by the Philadelphia Parking Authority. The city amassed over $20 million in revenue and $11 million in profit from the cameras. Philadelphia started using them in 2005. In the fiscal year that ended in March, the parking authority sent just under 10 percent of its red-light violations to New Jersey license-holders; Pennsylvania tag-holders constituted the majority.

A bill allowing speed cameras in certain areas is making its way through the Pennsylvania legislature.

Philadelphia’s parking authority has agreements with out-of-state agencies, including New Jersey’s Motor Vehicle Commission, that allow access to driver databases for purposes of issuing red-light camera citations, PPA spokesman Martin O’Rourke said.

“If that were to stop then the PPA would have no ability to get the owner’s vehicle information or address to send him or her a notice of violation,” he said.

“If that were to stop then the PPA would have no ability to get the owner’s vehicle information or address to send him or her a notice of violation,” he said.

State Sen. Nicholas Scutari (D., Union), who has cosponsored the bill with State Sen. Nicholas Sacco (D., Bergen) since 2014, became deputy majority leader this year. He said he thinks they “might actually be able to get some movement,” citing bipartisan support.

State Sen. Declan O’Scanlon, a Republican from Monmouth County who cosponsored this year’s bill, said he’s not worried about the previous stalling of the legislation.

“The best thing [we] have going for us is time,” he said. “Because every single day people get these tickets and realize they’re a scam.”

Local governments in 14 states and the District of Columbia use speed cameras, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The nation’s capital and communities in 23 states use red-light cameras.

South Dakota, which does not allow the cameras, did in 2014 what New Jersey legislators have been trying to do. Whenever an out-of-state agency asks South Dakota for a driver’s information for a traffic camera citation — which state officials acknowledge is rare — the state declines the request. Only one state at its border — Iowa — allows the cameras.

New Jersey is surrounded by states that have red-light cameras, speed cameras, or both.

“If we don’t believe in the program as it stands in New Jersey,” Scutari said, “why should we help to prosecute our motoring public that resides in New Jersey?”

By Michaelle Bond and published on September 10, 2018 in The Philadelphia Inquirer and can be found here.

Who is an Independent Contractor?

A “hot button” topic these days is whether a worker is an independent contractor or an employee. This topic arises both in work and tax arenas, and is not a simple issue.  In the work arena the issue often arises when someone applies for unemployment compensation benefits. In Pennsylvania someone who is an independent contractor is not eligible for unemployment compensation benefits, and is considered self-employed.

Pennsylvania Courts use a two-part test to make this distinction. It is: (1) whether the worker was free from control and direction in the performance of the work; and (2) whether the business is one that is customarily engaged in as an independent trade or business. If the alleged employer opposes a claim for benefits based on an independent contractor defense, the alleged employer generally has the burden to prove that the worker was not an employee.

To determine whether a worker is free from the control and direction of an employer in the performance of work, Pennsylvania Courts frequently consider and weigh eight factors. 1. How the job was performed? Does a worker set his own hours, create his own work/task agenda, and/or decide how many other workers are needed for a particular task? 2. Whether there was a fixed rate of pay, who decides the cost of the services being provided, and who decides when/if raises are granted? The amount of money a worker earns is not significant in the analysis. 3. Whether taxes are deducted from the worker’s pay, or is a W2 or a 1099 issued? 4. Whether the alleged employer supplies the tools necessary to carry out the services being provided? 5. Does the alleged employer offers on-the-job training? 6. Whether there were regular meetings with the alleged employer? 7. If the business fails, will the worker only lose his job, or will he have the responsibility to satisfy the business’s potential creditors? 8. Does the worker work exclusively for one employer, or is he free to accept other jobs at the same time?

Ultimately, all of the above factors can be reduced to two words: The first is FREEDOM. Does the worker have the freedom to set his own schedule, to establish his own pay rate, to compete with the business?  The second is RESPONSIBILITY. Does the worker pay his own taxes, use his own tools, and/or bear the risk and burden of financial loss in the business?

Generally under the IRS regulations, a worker is deemed to be an independent contractor rather than employee if the employer has the right to control or direct only the result of the work and not the means or methods by which the results are accomplished.  A worker is classified as an employee if the employer has the right to control what will be done and how the services will be performed.

The IRS regulations focus on (1) relationship of the worker and the business, (2) the degree of control exercised by the business on the worker, and (3) the worker’s degree of independence. The IRS also has regulations specific to certain jobs and salespeople, drivers, and other persons who generally don’t work in an office setting and has further criteria to determine if federal taxes should be withheld for them. In some cases although W 2’s versus 1099’s are provided, some taxes need not be withheld and some expenses can still be deducted by the worker.

The IRS seeks to qualify as many workers as possible as employees rather than independent contractors, so that taxes can be collected. IRS regulations take into account the behavioral control, financial control, and the type of relationship of the parties in making this analysis. Many of these factors are the same ones as discussed above in the unemployment compensation context, so they won’t be repeated. Other factors which are considered in determining the relationship between a worker and an employee are: whether there is a written employment contract; whether the worker is provided any benefits such as insurance, pension plan, vacation pay, or sick pay; and whether there is a finite end date for employment of the relationship.

If a worker is erroneously classified as an independent contractor rather than an employee, the employer will be held liable for all of the employment taxes, but if the employer has a reasonable basis for misclassifying a worker, they will not be held liable.  Such relief is only provided if the employer filed all required federal information returns on a basis consistent with the treatment of the worker, such as showing that all workers in a substantially similar position were classified in the same manner.

Businesses should consider reviewing their current payroll practices.  Documentation and record-keeping procedures should be reviewed and updated if necessary. Even if a worker is found to be misclassified by the employer, the employer may still be entitled to partial relief from federal employment taxes if they participate in the Voluntary Classification Settlement Program (VCSP). There are specific requirements for participation which I won’t delve into here. SUFFICE IT TO SAY THAT THE QUESTION OF EMPLOYEE CLASSIFICATION IS QUITE COMPLICATED AND BECOMING MORESO.  

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

No 1st Amendment Violation In Requiring Parolee To Live At Christian Homeless Shelter

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Janny v. Gamez, (D CO, Feb. 21, 2020), a Colorado federal district court dismissed an inmate’s First Amendment challenge to his arrest for parole violations. Mark Janny’s parole officer directed him to stay at a Christian homeless shelter in order to meet the parole requirement that he establish a residence of record. Janny was expelled from the shelter’s program when he refused to attend chapel religious services. The court held that plaintiff’s Establishment Clause rights were not infringed because there was a secular purpose for the homeless shelter requirement. The court also accepted defendant’s qualified immunity defense to an assertion of free exercise violations, saying that it was not clearly established that a parole officer violates a parolee’s rights by requiring him to reside at a facility that provides religious programming.

You can learn more about this issue here.

Templeton Project: Do we understand each other?

Back in October 2015 I wrote about the inauguration of the Abington Templeton Foundation (see here).  The project is now underway (see here) and I will be posting our writing here.

Check out the latest piece entitled “Do we understand each other?.”

See also:


Respect for the other in dialogue or debate requires careful listening. But, listening to another does not come easily to anyone.  It requires discipline, self-control, and humility.  Why humility?  This virtue reminds us that we are not the only ones who have something important and beneficial to say.  In fact, it teaches us that on some occasions we have nothing important and beneficial to say and, therefore, should listen to what others have to say.  Our silence can contribute to the discussion.

While apparently listening, we should listen.  That is, we should not be thinking of the next thing we are going to say while we tune out the one who is speaking.  I must admit that I often do this.  When I do, I am compelled to ask what the other person just said–rather embarrassing.  Good listening requires an attentive, clear, uncluttered, focussed mind.  Body language should indicate an attentive mind.  To listen to another is one expression of the love of one’s neighbor.

Effective communication, whether there are two or more in conversation, requires everyone to have a commitment to attentiveness.  When one of the parties does not understand, he should ask for clarification.  Always remember to put pride aside so that you are not afraid to ask for the definition of terms and words you do not understand.

When in the conversation an important fact to the discussion is not known, make a commitment to research it.  Never defend an idea without the facts.  By the way, there is no such thing as a “true fact.”  By its very definition a fact is true.  “False facts” do not exist. If they do, they exist in another universe, not this one.  False information does exist in this galaxy and universe

A counselling technique I learned in seminary is to repeat what the other person has said both to insure you have it right and to further the discussion.  We use this technique in everyday conversation.

When we are speaking, we need to be as clear as we can.  We should define the terms and words we use if we think it necessary to clarify without being patronizing.  We need to admit mistakes when we are aware that we have taken a misstep.  We should avoid attempts at manipulation or deception.  We should manifest our beliefs and commitments, that is, our world view. We are to speak only the truth to the extent that we know it.  When challenged, we are to keep our patience.  When ridiculed, we are to keep our love.  When we witness our goals are understanding and conversion.

Today there exists in our country a great divide in understanding.  Several reasons account for this situation.

  1.  Ideologies that people hold are widely divergent, e.g.  secular materialism and Christian faith.  A Civil (or Uncivil) War is being fought over ideas and world views.  May this logomachy (war of words) never become a hot war among our people.
  2. People are often talking over each other and not listening first before their turn, e.g. on the news channels, all of which promote uncivil speech and rudeness. The media has produced a new type of gladiator.  Outrageous speech is a relatively new sort of entertainment. My thumb is down, not on the people, but on the modern circus that coarsens our lives.
  3. Little effort is expended on compromise where an issue does not involve an essential belief or a known fact.  In some cases, compromise can bring about fresh insights and new solutions to problems.
  4. Reputations are at stake.  One does not want to lose one’s standing so does not admit false or harmful ideas when such are obvious.
  5. Hatred of other groups (race, nation, ethnic group, religion) remains a constant human factor and greatly distorts our conversations. The new tolerance is ironically intolerant, contributing nothing to civil discourse and, in fact, inhibiting it. One can add it to the list of prejudices.
  6. Political power is sought at the expense of truth.
  7. Ideologies sometimes make little room for the truth, because the truth may threaten the ideology’s credibility.
  8. The internet and other technologies make it easy for an individual to be rude and obnoxious without looking at one’s opponent eye to eye.
  9. American values are focussed on the old idols–power, fame, and money. Hypocrisy about what our values really are adds to the misery of the situation. All good things are sacrificed to them.
  10. No common ground exists on what is truth.

We need to remember that none of us is the center of the universe.  We are not God or a god.  We must unlearn what we have learned about self-esteem and enter the real world of people where relationships require a mutuality that self-centeredness and narcissism destroy.  Our schools need a much more compelling foundation than self-esteem. What this would be without religion, I do not know. (See Neil Postman’s The End of Education. A good book that more effectively presents the problem than the solution).  Education is not to be a godmaker.  It is the church that prepares people for living the divine life in heaven and for serving others in this life.

Much greater commitment is required to increase civil discourse in America.  At this time, little effort is expended on this most important requirement necessary for civil amity.  The Church must promote respect both intramurally and extramurally.

We must continue to ask, do we understand one another?  And, we must keep making the effort to understand.

Michael G. Tavella

September 9, 2019

Debunking Complaints Against Lawyers

I frequently receive calls from potential clients complaining about other lawyers who represent them, have represented them, or they have called to represent them.  Below are some of my favorite call topics, and my responses to them.

Comment:  “I have called or e mailed many lawyers and no one but you have returned my calls or e mails.”

Response:  A lawyer does not want to talk to someone who is fishing around for free advice, and calls 15-20 lawyers or more in the process. A short inquiry is fine, but some callers want to spend a large amount of time discussing their situation. Lawyers generally only need specific information to determine if callers have a viable case, so please be respectful of their time and the questions you ask of them. A general e mail is even worse, because it is unclear how many lawyers have been contacted via one e mail. I have had many e mails sent to me via websites which are addressed to lawyers with different names. The inquirer did not even take the time to change the name. Why would a lawyer even respond to such an e mail?  There are also many scam e mails lawyers receive from all over the world, and it is difficult to tell which are legitimate.

Many inquirers do not seem to realize that “a lawyer’s time and advice are his stock in trade”, a saying that is usually attributed to Abraham Lincoln.  Let’s do the math. If a lawyer gets 20 calls a day from prospective clients and spends an average of 15 minutes on each call, they have spent 5 hours on the phone and they haven’t earned a dime if all of those callers are trolling around for free advice. They have businesses to run and expenses to meet. These same callers would not dream of taking up another professional’s time free of charge.

Comment: “My lawyer didn’t do anything, or didn’t say anything in court.”

Response:  Although this may be the case, in my many years of experience I find this is rare. Lawyers often do much of their work behind the scenes, and do not communicate every single thing they do to their client, as this would be even more time-consuming, especially to clients who pay hourly, and who would not appreciate being charged for this service.  Clients need to trust that their lawyers are putting in the necessary time to assist them, and in contingency fee cases, lawyers don’t get paid if they don’t settle or win a case, so why would they not do the work to ensure success? Lawyers also cannot guarantee the results of any case.

Lawyers who appear in court have to measure what they say. They don’t often want to raise numerous objections which may offend the judge and delay the proceedings; they may determine from the judge’s mood or nature of the case that saying less would be better; and they may decide to play the good layer and let the opposing lawyer rant and rave to their client’s detriment. Clients don’t always understand these nuances and think that the lawyer who rants and raves is the better lawyer. They probably get this impression from television, but a real courtroom experience is very different from a televised courtroom experience.

Comment: “Many other lawyers have told me what you said, but I don’t believe it and I want to take my chances that I can convince the judge of my case on my own.”

Response:  I often say to clients, would you perform brain surgery on yourself, and if not, why do you think you know more about the law and courtroom procedure than a lawyer? Do not mistake your ability to file a case in court as a pro se litigant with the certainty that you can represent yourself successfully.  The law and the rules surrounding it are extremely complex and vary from court to court and county to county. Of course there are some people who represent themselves successfully, but this is a very rare outcome in a complex case in a court other than a first level court.

Comment: “It isn’t fair, where is justice?”

Response: Life in general isn’t fair, and justice depends on many things. A soup to nuts lawsuit on certain matters costs a minimum of $75,000-$100,000 and upwards for a lawyer’s time, plus thousands of dollars in court. If one can afford to pay a lawyer that amount, that is great. If one can find a firm to accept the case on a contingency fee basis (usually in serious injury or death cases), that is great, but for the vast majority of others, their path to fairness and justice in the legal system will be seriously limited by what they can afford to spend.

Comment:  “I spent all of my money (fill in the amount, but it is usually into the many thousands of dollars) on a lawyer and now I have no money left, so can you take my case on a contingency fee basis?”

Response:  I love these calls, and wonder, why wasn’t I the one they had thousands of dollars to pay? It is not a lawyer’s responsibility to pick up a case free of charge after another lawyer/s have worked on a case and gotten paid. Oftentimes the cases at issue are those in which a lawyer can’t possibly make money (although the callers assure the lawyer will make millions from the free publicity), such as custody or support cases, or which are so far along in the legal process, or so many mistakes have already been made, that it is a losing case.

My final comment is please be respectful of a lawyer’s time and advice, as it is their stock in trade, and should not be wasted. 

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

Valentine’s Day is NOT Pagan

As seems to be common, there are a lot of misconceptions over the origin of the traditions that surround Christian holidays.

As shown here and here respectively, the traditions of Christmas and Easter are not derived from paganism, despite the apparent general popular beliefs to the contrary.

The same goes for St. Valentine’s Day as well.  To that end, here is a great video on this subject.  Check it out!

“Hot” Disability Issues

A hot issue currently is an employee’s ability to keep their job when they have to take time off due to an illness or disability and the duty of an employer to accommodate them while maintaining a productive workplace. Although the Americans with Disability Act (“Act”) has been in effect for some years, its provisions became muddled and diminished through various court decisions.  As a result of the confusion, and what many people considered to be a deliberate attempt to undermine the spirit of the Act, Amendments to that Act (“Amendments”) passed by Congress became effective on January 1, 2009, and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (the “EEOC”) issued final resolutions on how to implement the Amendments in May 2011.

The Amendments greatly broaden the scope of what employers are expected to do in order to accommodate persons who allege they have a disability. Employers may question whether an employee is truly disabled, but the Amendments have broadened what is considered to be a disability, and will apply even if an employee doesn’t allege a disability, but the employer “perceives” there may be a disability because the employee has certain work restrictions or requires leave.

It is important for an employer not to take a firm stance and insist that if the employee can’t work at the same pace as before, or can’t lift the same amount, etc., that they will automatically be terminated. An employer is now required, moreso than in the original Act, to determine if there can be something done to reasonable accommodate the employee.  Also, while an employee is out on leave, is not the time to document a case against them regarding poor performance, if the issue has not arisen previously.

The issue of distinguishing between employees who have been injured at work versus those that haven’t may also be narrowing, if this results in some type of inequitable situation.  Also, if a union contract permits an employee to take medical leave for an extended period of time, and a non-union employee is denied this leave, it may be difficult for an employer to argue that granting leave to one employee and not another makes it difficult for an employer to conduct its business.

Employers are being encouraged by the EEOC to become more flexible in their leave policies. In recent years policies which have been struck down through lawsuits or through settlements with employers include:

  • An employee injured on the job must return to work within 12 months;
  • An employee out on medical leave is required to return to full duty without restrictions;
  • An employee is penalized for being absent even if they were out on a disability;
  • An employee is prevented from working a reduced schedule if they have a disability.

The burden is being placed on employers to develop policies which evaluate disabilities, determine whether the job requirements of an employee can be accommodated in some way, and actively notify an employee of their rights to accommodated. Some of these policies conflict with the general requirements that employees must request an accommodation, or an employer’s attempt to establish  policies that are clear cut and consistent, giving employees instruction on how to proceed with leave issues. These policies often interact with the Family Medical Leave Act (“FMLA”), and just because leave time under the FMLA has been exhausted, doesn’t necessarily mean that an employee can be terminated.

In conclusion, employers are being encouraged, and in some cases required, to be more flexible with their leave policies; individual analysis is required for each employee requesting leave; all leave policies should be coordinated so they don’t conflict with each other; and there should be an ongoing dialogue with employees, human resources personnel, unions, etc. regarding leave policies.

An interactive process with open lines of communication is required. Supervisors and managers should be instructed on how to deal with these issues, or who to report them to.

I have represented numerous clients who have been terminated when they should have been accommodated, or who require our Firm to intervene on their behalf in attempting to navigate, and often, even locate, their employers’ leave policies. If it takes a lawyer to get this information, and a lawyer must spend time interpreting the policies because they are vague or confusing or they conflict with each other, than that or those policies are far too confusing for an average employee to understand and need to be clarified.

By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

6th Circuit: Non-Recognition Substantially Burdened Christian Identity Inmates

This is from religionclause.blogspot.com which you can find here:

In Fox v. Washington, (6th Cir., Feb, 6, 2020), the U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals held that the trial court had misapplied RLUIPA in upholding Michigan’s refusal to recognize prison inmates’ Christian Identity, white separatist religion. The prison system denied Christian Identity adherents the right to group worship and full immersion baptism. The court said in part:

… [P]laintiffs have met their burden ,,, to show that the Department has imposed a substantial burden on their religious exercise with respect to group worship for the Sabbath and holidays….

At step three of RLUIPA, the burden shifts to the Department to make two showings. First, it must prove that the imposition of the substantial burden on plaintiffs’ religious exercise was “in  furtherance of a compelling governmental interest.” … Second, the Department must establish that it used “the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.”… The district court made no such rulings, and the record is not well developed on these issues. “As ‘a court of review, not of first view,’ we will remand the case to the district court to resolve the point in the first instance.”

You can learn more about this issue here.

Family Law Tip: Custody Orders and School Buses

I  post some tips regarding family to my Linkedin page (see here) from time to time, and I thought I should start sharing them here too. Below is one of my family law tips, and you can read my articles on family law here and other posts on family law here and all are cataloged here.

Rights of Employees in Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania is one of the states which adheres to the “employee at-will” doctrine. This means that employees can be terminated for nearly any reason, but it also means that employees can leave their employment for almost any reason.  Most employees are not impressed when they learn that they can leave their jobs for any reason, as most of them want to keep them. However, there have been times in our country’s history when that was not the case, such as in the days of slavery or indentured servitude, or when employees owed so much to a company that they couldn’t leave voluntarily.

Most employees who call me for legal advice are shocked to learn that:

• they can be terminated without doing anything wrong, as they think they can only be fired “for cause”;

• they can be terminated because they have had an argument with another employee;

• they can be terminated even if they belong to a union;

• they can be terminated because a new manager wants to hire his own people;

• they can be terminated if they don’t get along with another employee or supervisor;

• they can be terminated even if they didn’t violate a policy;

• they can be terminated even if they didn’t do something prohibited in a handbook,

• and the list of reasons goes on and on.


Although the above news is depressing to employees, there are some limited exceptions to the “employee at will” doctrine. A partial list of these exceptions are:

• An employee who has a contract which specifically sets forth a length of employment, salary, etc., if terminated, can argue that the contract gives them certain rights. They may or may not win this argument, as the law requires that the contract terms be clear and specific. Realistically very few employees, unless they are sports or news or entertainment personalities, have this type of contract.

• Public policy violations. There has been some law established through the years by the courts, through various court cases, which have given employees some rights, because the violation of those rights would be against the public interest. The best known example of a public policy violation is if someone were called for jury duty, and lost their job because they were picked to serve on a jury, or even if they reported for selection.

• Discrimination and other laws. There are some laws which give employees rights in the areas of discrimination, wages and hours, labor issues, criminal record checks, etc., that can be quite lengthy and complicated, and won’t be specifically discussed here. Some of these laws provide the right to file a complaint with a government agency. Bear in mind, however, that those agencies are often overburdened and short-handed and their action, if any, often falls far short of a remedy an employee seeks.



By: Faye Riva Cohen, Esquire on her blog “Toughlawyerlady”

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