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The Nebraska Legislature has finally begun debating the State’s biennial budget. The good news is that the language contained in LB944 for Title X spending will exclude those clinics which perform abortions. Our budget ought to reflect our values. Because Nebraska is a pro-life state, it makes sense that our taxpayers should not have to fund those agencies which perform a practice that most of us consider to be immoral.
Unfortunately, when LB944 came up for debate last week on General File we never got the opportunity to talk about funding for the University of Nebraska. However, I have filed an amendment to the bill so that this will be the first topic up for debate when LB944 comes up for debate on Select File. It is time for the Legislature to have a serious discussion about how we fund the University of Nebraska system.
Although the Governor had recommended cutting state funding for the University of Nebraska by 4 percent, LB944 only cuts state funding to the University of Nebraska system by 1 percent. My amendment would restore these cuts to the Governor’s recommended amount of 4 percent.
As I said in my article last week, the University of Nebraska’s operational revenues actually increased by six percent last year. So, a 1 percent reduction in state spending to the University might seem like a big deal to University of Nebraska administrators, but not to the average taxpayer, especially when compared to some of the cuts made to other state agencies. For instance, Program 519, a program to provide homes for Nebraska’s veterans is slated to be cut by almost 17 percent in the State’s General Fund next year.
The fact of the matter is that the University of Nebraska has been spending money recklessly since 2011. For instance, according to the University of Nebraska’s own Operating Budget, the University’s total budget has grown by 23 percent since 2011 while tuition and fees have grown by 45 percent. Over that same period, spending on administrator’s salaries grew by nearly 40 percent, while student enrollment grew by less than 7 percent.
University spending over the course of the last three years has been the worst. In 2014 the University of Nebraska spent $290,256,191 on faculty salaries, but in 2017 they spent $321,693,466. That’s an increase of 10.8 percent in only three years. In 2014 the University of Nebraska spent $36,959,542 on administrators’ salaries, but in 2017 they spent $45,134,137 on administrators’ salaries. That’s an increase of 22.1 percent in just three years!
According to the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, from 2008-2017 Nebraska ranked 4th highest in the nation in state funding for higher education. Nebraska was one of only 5 states which has increased state funding for higher education on a per-student, inflation adjusted basis. While the average state spent 16 percent less per student in 2017 than in 2008, Nebraska spent more per student. Over the past decade more than 30 states have reduced state funding per student on an inflation adjusted basis for higher education by double digits. So, we are clearly moving in the wrong direction.
The University of Nebraska spends money wastefully. When I see the University of Nebraska spending $165,000 per year on a lobbyist, and when I see them spending $370,209 on 7.5 faculty members in the Diversity Chancellor’s pool and another $2,970,392 on the Diversity Central Administration Pool, I cannot help but conclude that University spending is running out of control.
Therefore, I believe the time has come for the Legislature to finally have a serious debate about how they fund the University of Nebraska system with our tax dollars.
I continue to lose faith in President, Hank Bounds, Chancellor, Ronnie Green, and the other Chancellors to lead the University of Nebraska system. Besides their failure to lead during the fiasco that unfolded last fall when Kaitlyn Mullen was harassed by a graduate teaching assistant and an English professor, their means for getting more State funding for the university also need to be exposed.
Bounds, Green and the other Chancellors have been threatening to close University programs in order to pressure state legislators into giving them more money. The decision to close the Haskell Ag Lab in Concord, the elimination of the baseball team at the Kearney campus, the cutting of extension programs, and the ending of the Dental Hygiene program in Gering are just four examples of how the university has targeted specific Senators who have dared to question their use of taxpayer’s dollars.
The University of Nebraska has not dealt honestly with the public regarding their funding. For instance, Governor Ricketts had proposed cutting the University’s State funding by $11 million for the 2017 fiscal year and another $23 million for the 2018 fiscal year for a total of $34 million in cuts. But the actual cuts made to the University, as proposed by the Appropriations Committee, amounted to $11 million for the 2017 fiscal year and $6 million for the 2018 fiscal year for a total of $17 million in cuts. That’s half of what Governor Ricketts had originally proposed. But, what Bounds, Green, and the other Chancellors don’t want their university students, legislators, and the general public to know is that their revenues have actually increased.
The University of Nebraska has a lot of money flowing into their system. The Independent Auditor’s Report of the University of Nebraska system reveals on page 13 of the report that the University’s operating revenues actually increased by $74 million for fiscal year 2017. So, while Hank Bounds whined before the Appropriations Committee for one hour and forty minutes about how the University of Nebraska could not afford to suffer a two percent reduction in State funding, their operational revenues actually increased by six percent!
The University of Nebraska has been frightening students by threatening to close some of their much needed academic programs unless they get more funding from the State. Some of these students have come to visit me at the State Capitol. But, after I show them how the University’s operating revenues have increased by $74 million or six percent and how they continue to sit on a pile of cash reserves in excess of $230 million, they begin to realize where the problem really lies.
The University of Nebraska continues to be a very well-funded university system. There simply are no logical reasons for Hank Bounds, Ronnie Green and the other Chancellors to make the program cuts they keep threatening to make. However, I believe it is time for University of Nebraska students, legislators, and the general public to know the truth about how much money is really flowing into the University of Nebraska system.
I care deeply about the safety of children in our public schools. In no way do I wish to put any of our children into a situation where they might be harmed. I believe our public schools should be safe places for children to learn. As the recent terroristic threat inscribed on a bathroom stall at Creek Valley High School in Chappell so aptly demonstrates, schools in Nebraska’s Panhandle are not immune from the same kind of violence which recently occurred down in Florida.
Finding a sensible way to protect children in our public schools will not likely be found in the hysteria which has resulted in the aftermath of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
The facts of the matter are that automatic weapons, such as machine guns, silencers, and sawed off shotguns have been banned in our country ever since the National Firearms Act of 1934. Bump stocks do not turn rifles into automatic weapons, and “assault rifle” is nothing more than a term that activists use who want to ban more guns. Had the FBI and local law enforcement acted upon the warnings previously given to them about Nicolas Cruz, the entire incident in Florida never would have occurred.
Banning more guns does not solve the problem of school violence. Consider, for instance, that on April 9, 2014 16-year-old sophomore student, Alex Hribal, ran through the hallways of his Murrysville, Pennsylvania high school, stabbing 20 students and one security officer in the stomach with two eight-inch kitchen knives. Four students suffered life-threatening injuries that day. One student barely escaped death when the knife that pierced him came dangerously close to his heart. So, banning guns makes as much sense as banning kitchen knives, and ignores the deeper issues related to school violence.
The problem of school violence is really a parental, cultural, moral and spiritual problem. Thirty years ago, students did not shoot up their schools even though they had more access to guns than students do today. Earlier in our nation’s history, parents were more involved in their students’ lives and morality and faith were taught and encouraged in our public schools, and the Judeo-Christian worldview was woven throughout our curriculum. For instance, in his 1904 textbook entitled, “The Elements of English Grammar” William F. Webster included these four sentences in a simple student exercise on identifying nouns: “Cathedrals are impressive,” “God is in His world,” “Silence is a great peacemaker,” and “The finest churches are made of stone.” These kinds of sentences can no longer can be found in our students’ textbooks.
The ethics which dominate in our public schools today are global warming, diversity, and gay rights. Because traditional morality and spirituality are so lacking in today’s curriculum, some educators have now begun to tell their students not to murder their classmates and not to rape women. However, traditional education never had to say such things, because we were taught from the beginning to be kind, to be respectful of others, and to always act like a lady or a gentleman.
In his remarks this week about the passing of Rev. Billy Graham, President Donald Trump said, “Faith promotes love, hope, charity, kindness, mutual respect, and civility. It has always been an important part of America.” He was right. So, what America’s youth need most today are healthy, loving families, spiritual revival, and moral awakening.
Last week was a very busy week for me at the Capitol. On Monday the petition drive for the property tax relief ballot measure was launched. The petition drive will put onto the November ballot the same measure as my legislative bill, LB 829. The ballot measure would direct the Department of Revenue to give Nebraska property taxpayers up to 30 percent off their property taxes in the form of a credit or refund.
Last fall I received a passionate phone call from a Palmyra farmer. He pressed me to deliver on property tax relief. I told him I was working on a bill. He then proceeded to tell me how his daughter is also a State Senator at the Capitol, but she would not listen to him talk about the need for property tax relief. His daughter is Sen. Kate Bolz of Lincoln. After I told him about the petition drive, he asked me if he could be the first one to sign a petition. So, Mr. Craig Bolz of Palmyra became the first person to sign a petition for property tax relief in Lincoln.
Mr. Trent Fellers of Lincoln, who is the executive director of Reform for Nebraska’s Future, heads the committee which oversees the petition drive. Mr. Fellers has done an excellent job of fundraising, and he has hired the Lincoln Strategy Group out of Arizona to manage the petition drive. This is the same organization which managed the petition drive to reinstate the death penalty in Nebraska. Altogether we need to collect 85,000 legitimate signatures. These signatures must comprise five percent of voters from at least 35 different counties, and the petitions must be submitted by July 5 in order to get the measure on the November ballot. If you would like to donate time or money to our cause, or if you would like to see how much money you could save, then please visit http://www.yestopropertytaxrelief.com.
On Thursday a public hearing was held on my bill to raise the rate of pay for gas commissioners. The hearing for LB 713 was held in the Natural Resources Committee, instead of the Revenue Committee or the Appropriations Committee, because gas commissioners do not get paid out of the state’s General Fund. Instead, the Nebraska Oil and Gas Conservation Commission’s operational costs are paid by the conservation tax proceeds collected by the Nebraska Department of Revenue from a tax assessed on the value of all oil and gas produced in the state.
Gas commissioners have never received a pay raise. The current rate of pay for gas commissioners is $50 per meeting with a cap set at $2,000 per year, which was set back in 1959. Therefore, LB 713 will raise their pay to $500 per meeting with a cap set at $6,000 per year. According to the website http://www.dollartimes.com $50 in 1959 is worth $426.51 today, so $500 per meeting seems liked a reasonable amount to me.
Finally, on Friday a public hearing was held on my agricultural land valuation reform bill, LB 1100. Because the bill I introduced last year stalled in the Revenue Committee, I decided to introduce an even better bill this year. LB 1100 will change the method for valuating agricultural land from the current market based system to a productivity method. LB 1100 would make agricultural land valuations fair, objective, and transparent.
The University of Nebraska is an important and valuable institution in our State. I, Sen. Steve Erdman of Bayard, support the University of Nebraska insofar as they deal equitably towards students and taxpayers. In recent days, administrators at the University of Nebraska have demonstrated a complete lack of regard for student tuition and taxpayers’ dollars. Today I would like to expose how the University of Nebraska really spends its money.
Last fall the University of Nebraska hired former Nebraska State Senator, Heath Mello, to be their new chief lobbyist. Mello earns a salary of $165,000 per year. So, the University spends $165,000 per year in order to pay a lobbyist to help them get more money from the State. I believe it is wrong for any agency which gets State tax dollars to spend those tax dollars to lobby the State for even more tax dollars.
One place where the University might look to save some money comes from their own administrative expenses. In the recent past, student enrollment has gone up seven percent while administrative salaries have increased forty percent.
NU President, Hank Bounds, came to the Capitol last Wednesday in order to testify for one hour and forty minutes before the Appropriations Committee. He asked State Legislators to vote against the Governor’s proposed budget cuts of $23 million to the University. Some students, stricken by a heavy burden of student loan debt, even skipped class in order to testify at the hearing which lasted four and one-half hours.
In an attempt to coerce State Legislators, Hank Bounds and Chancellor, Ronnie Green, have proposed certain program cuts to the University’s budget. Some of these program cuts include ending bachelor’s degrees and master’s degrees programs in art history, geography and electronics engineering (bachelor’s level only), and even eliminating a baseball team at the University of Nebraska at Kearney. But these program cuts were unnecessary and do nothing more than send a shot across the bow to State Legislators.
The fact of the matter is that the University of Nebraska has plenty of money to spend. Administrators at the University of Nebraska have not dealt honestly and transparently with the public about the funds which are available for them to use. For instance, the University of Nebraska regularly maintains non-restrictive cash reserves in excess of $230 million. The University of Nebraska has maintained these non-restrictive cash reserves above $230 million for at least the past three years.
According to Nebraska State Senator, John Stinner of Gering, who is chair of the Appropriations Committee, the University of Nebraska maintains non-restrictive cash reserves in excess of $230 million dollars in order to protect their bond rating. However, the University of Nebraska could afford to spend $30 million out of its cash reserves with no change whatsoever in their bond rating. What this tells me, is that Bounds and Green care more about protecting their bond rating than they do about lowering student tuition or keeping established programs intact.
On Monday February 5 I invoked a rule seldom used on the floor of the Legislature. I invoked the rule of Personal Privilege. This rule is used when members of the Legislature need to speak to matters pertaining to their integrity as a Legislator. I invoked the rule in order to respond to the University of Nebraska’s releasing of Senators’ e-mails to the Lincoln Journal Star newspaper, which they had requested via the Freedom of Information Act.
I needed to set the record straight on three important matters relating to developments that unfolded last fall at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln (UNL). The e-mails which were released pertained to an incident which had occurred on the UNL campus on August 25 between a sophomore student and an English professor and a graduate student lecturer, who berated the student as she recruited for Turning Point USA, a conservative student group.
The first matter I needed to correct related to the false accusation that I had never reached out to the administration at the University before I submitted my first Op/Ed piece to the newspapers. NU President, Hank Bounds, had sent me an e-mail which said: “I don’t relish the thought of a public dispute with members of the Legislature. Unfortunately, no one contacted me to discuss your questions before the piece was sent to the media, even though senators have my cell phone number and e-mail address…”
To the contrary, I had reached out numerous times to NU Chancellor, Ronnie Green, at his office before I wrote the first Op/Ed for the newspapers, but he never bothered to return my phone calls. Finally, after several attempts to reach out to him, I called his office and said to his staff, “I am going to write an Op/Ed for the paper and I’d like to talk to Chancellor Green. I want him to know what I am going to say before I send it out. Please have him call me because I am sending it out at noon.” I sent out the Op/Ed because he never called me back that day. In fact, Chancellor Green never bothered to call me back until after the Op/Ed had been published and NU President, Hank Bounds, promised me that he would call. I finally got his call two weeks after I began calling him. To me, this is unacceptable behavior from the Chancellor of our flagship university.
The second issue I needed to correct related to the very nature of the incident itself. I have never referred to the August 25 incident as a free speech issue; instead, I have always maintained from the very beginning that it was a conduct issue. The University of Nebraska has codes of conduct for their students; they need to develop similar codes of conduct on their faculty. This lack of accountability explains how these professors have been able to berate and belittle students and get away with it.
The third issue I needed to correct related to a false statement made about Sen. Brewer. NU President, Hank Bounds, had stated on KLIN radio that Sen. Brewer had never seen the Op/Ed piece co-authored by Sen. Brewer, Sen Halloran, and me before it went out to the press one month after my first Op/Ed piece. This was fake news. The fact of the matter was that all three senators had worked on this second Op/Ed piece together throughout the week and Sen. Brewer even made some last minute changes before it went out to the press.
Last Wednesday a public hearing was held in the Health and Human Services (HHS) Committee on my bill, LB 958. LB 958 is a very short bill. It is short because the only thing it does is expand the definition of a massage therapy establishment to include vehicles or mobile units.
The idea for this bill came to me from Mrs. Jean Thunker, a constituent of mine who works as a massage therapist in Paxton, Nebraska. Mrs. Thunker also made the long trip to Lincoln to testify at the public hearing on the bill. Massage therapists need mobile units because their clients oftentimes cannot travel long distances in an automobile to get to a brick and mortar massage therapy establishment. LB 958 would allow massage therapists to take their massage therapy clinics to where their clients live, work, study and play.
The hearing on LB 958 went very well. Only one person testified against the bill. The criticism against LB 958 is that the bill does not provide any stipulations about what kinds of vehicles could be used for massage therapy or about what kinds of equipment these mobile units should contain. Without any such stipulations, a massage therapist could theoretically use a horse trailer as a mobile unit for massage therapy. However, these kinds of provisions are not necessary in the law because they are usually spelled out in the regulations administered by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). I intentionally wrote the bill vague, because I saw it as an opportunity to remove these kinds of needless government regulations from our lives.
LB 958 will follow a different kind of pathway towards becoming a law than most ordinary bills. LB 958 will get absorbed into a larger consolidation bill currently being written by the Legislature’s HHS Committee. The timing on LB 958 was impeccable, because the HHS Committee was already preparing a separate committee bill to provide for mobile units to be used in cosmetology. So, the HHS committee will simply add another section to their larger committee bill to make provisions for mobile units to be used for massage therapy. Because LB 958 will get absorbed into this larger HHS committee bill, it will stand a much better chance of becoming a law.
So, the day is quickly approaching when massage therapists will come to you, instead of you having to travel long and painful distances in a car or on a motorcycle just to get a good massage. Perhaps, the best measure of good health is determined by which a person takes more of, pills or stairs. With the aid of a good massage, the wise person will always choose the stairs.
Last week was a very busy week for me at the Capitol. On Thursday hearings were held on my two property tax relief bills, LB829 and LB899. LB829 is the bill I introduced to fulfill my campaign promise to lower property taxes. LB899 is a bill which pro-rates the property taxes on a destroyed property to the date of its destruction. The hearing on LB829 was the longest one, lasting approximately four hours. It was a long day, but it was well worth it!
I would like to thank everyone who made the long trip to Lincoln to testify at the public hearing on LB829. Several people drove from the Panhandle to Lincoln to testify. We had a very strong showing of private citizens who testified in favor of the bill. In fact, no private citizens came out testify against the bill. Only lobbyists, unions and non-profit organizations testified against the bill, and I believe that fact shows how much Nebraskans desire this bill. I believe the personal testimonies and stories that were shared at the hearing as well as the numerous letters which were submitted left an indelible mark on the members of the Revenue Committee. Thank you for helping me give Nebraskans significant and substantial property tax relief.
LB829 will finally put taxpayers at the front of the line, instead of at the back of the line behind tax users. This bill unites urban and rural dwellers. It does not pit them against each other. We are all in this together!
LB829 now resides within the Revenue Committee, where it will be up to the members of the Revenue Committee to vote the bill out of committee and into General File. The question which now faces the Revenue Committee is this: Will the members of the Revenue Committee represent the citizens of Nebraska or will they represent the special interests of the lobbyists, the unions, and the non-profits? When asked to explain how I intended to pay for LB829, I responded by asking the members of the Revenue Committee how they expect Nebraskans to continue paying their property taxes.
If the Revenue Committee kills the bill, there is still one measure left I can use as a last resort. As a member of the Legislature I can make a motion to pull the bill out of the Revenue Committee. If the motion were to carry on the floor with 25 votes, the bill would automatically advance to General File.
On Friday, LB17 was debated on the floor of the Legislature. I took over as the primary sponsor of LB17 after Sen. Joni Craighead of Omaha suddenly resigned from office. LB17 is a carry-over bill from last year’s session. This bill is needed in order to put Nebraska into compliance with federal laws and regulations concerning the Nebraska Appraisal Management Act and Title XI of the Reform, Recovery, and Enforcement Act of 1989. LB17 advanced to Final Reading.
On January 25 public hearings will be held on my two property tax relief bills, LB829 and LB899. If you would like to testify at the public hearing for either bill, please arrive at Hearing Room #1524 at the State Capitol Building in Lincoln by 1:30 p.m. In order to testify, you will need to fill out a short form which will be available in the hearing room. I encourage everyone who desires property tax relief and who is able to travel the long distance to come to Lincoln and testify. The Revenue Committee needs to hear your story.
LB829 is my main property tax relief bill. This bill would enact The Property Tax Relief Act, which would give most property owners a 30% reduction in their property taxes. Once passed into law, property owners would be able to get a 50% credit or refund on that portion of their property tax bill which funds K-12 education when they file their Nebraska State Income Tax Return. Should my bill fail in the Legislature, we have put into place a citizen led petition drive to ensure that this measure will appear on your ballot in the November election.
LB899 is a property tax relief bill for destroyed properties. The bill would prorate the assessed value of a home or property to the date of its destruction by fire or by some other natural disaster. For instance, a homeowner should not have to pay property taxes on the full assessed value of a home on January 1 if the home was destroyed on January 2. Instead, homeowners should only have to pay property taxes on the full assessed value of their home or property for those days when the home was intact and livable; otherwise, they should pay a reduced or adjusted property tax amount for that portion of the year when their home was destroyed.
On another note, some area business owners have brought to my attention a matter concerning the Nebraska Council for Corporations (NCC). The NCC has been sending out letters requiring businesses to submit their Annual Records Solicitation Form and to pay a fee of $150. The Annual Records Solicitation Form asks for much of the same information already required by the Domestic Corporation Occupation Tax Report, which must be filed with the Secretary of State.
I have looked into this matter with the Secretary of State’s Office. While the NCC is considered to be a legitimate organization, businesses are not required by State Statute to fill out the Annual Records Solicitation Form, nor are they required by law to pay the $150 fee. Participation with the NCC should be considered voluntary.
If you have any questions or comments about what is going on in the State Legislature, please feel free to contact my office at (402) 471-2616 or send me an e-mail at email@example.com.
LB829 is the number assigned to my, Sen. Steve Erdman’s, property tax relief bill. LB829 will allow tax payers to get a 50 percent credit or refund on that portion of their property tax bill which goes to fund public education when they file their Nebraska state income taxes. For most taxpayers, LB829 will result in a 30 percent reduction in their property taxes.
LB829 is necessary because property taxes in Nebraska have been running out of control. According to the Department of Numbers, Nebraska’s real median household income remained stagnant near $57,000 between the years of 2005-2016. However, the per capita property tax burden rose from $1,150 in 2004 to $1,550 in 2011. That’s a difference of $400 or 25 percent within a time span of only seven years while household incomes remained steady. This year the median property tax bill in Nebraska is $2,164.
In recent years rural areas of our State have been hit particularly hard. For example, I live in Morrill County and according to the Nebraska Department of Property Assessment & Taxation the total amount of property taxes levied in Morrill County in 2006 was $7,390,027, but by 2016 that number had climbed to $17,569,558. That’s an average increase of more than one million dollars per year in a county with only 5,042 residents, according to the 2010 Census. So, property taxes have been rising at an alarming rate while median household incomes have remained stagnant.
Recently, an editorial appeared in the Omaha World Herald challenging the constitutionality of LB829. The editorial criticized my bill by claiming that the Nebraska Constitution gives no authority to the Legislature “to commute taxes or release taxpayers from their duty to pay taxes.” But, this criticism of LB829 is wrong.
The proposition that the Legislature lacks the authority to release taxpayers from their duty to pay taxes ignores what LB829 actually says. LB829 does not release taxpayers from paying their property taxes; all taxpayers will pay their property taxes the same as before. What LB829 does, however, is offer a credit or a refund to taxpayers on a portion of their property taxes which goes to fund public education. So, I welcome my opposition to challenge my bill in court.
The Legislature has the power to change the way people get taxed. If the assertion made by these editors of the Omaha World Herald was ever deemed to be true, then wouldn’t the TIF laws all be declared unconstitutional? Furthermore, if this criticism of my bill was ever sustained by the courts, then there would be no recourse for the Legislature to ever get rid of a bad tax.
Contrary to the editorial, I believe the Legislature has the authority to correct these kinds of wrongs. I also believe that the citizens of our State form our State’s Second Legislative House. As our State’s Second Legislative House, the citizens have the right to decide for themselves how they should get taxed through a provision made in the Nebraska State Constitution known as the citizen led initiative. This year you will have the opportunity to sign our petition to put this measure on the November ballot.
The editorial in the Omaha World Herald went on to challenge LB829 again, but this time it did so on the grounds of violating “the Constitution’s equal protection and due process provisions.” The editorial criticized LB829 because only those who file a Nebraska State income tax return would be able to benefit from the income tax credit or refund offered by the bill. But this criticism, too, is wrong.
This second criticism lodged against LB829 ignores the fact that all laws discriminate to some degree. For instance, speed limit laws discriminate against speeders as well as against those who don’t own automobiles. Just as our speed limit laws do not obligate the State to provide motorists with vehicles, so also my tax relief bill is not obligated to provide property tax relief for those who do not file a Nebraska State income tax return.
The truth about the 14th Amendment is that the Equal Protection Clause simply requires lawmakers to provide a good reason or a rationale for the law being proposed. Consequently, the justification I am proposing for LB829 is that property taxes have been rising at a much faster pace than average household incomes. The burden of continuously rising property taxes has now become unbearable for far too many property owners, and I believe that is ample justification for the Legislature to pass my bill.
Here is a link to the bill: LB 829
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