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Stories about South Dakota

Initiative to expand Medicaid to appear on South Dakota ballot

On June 9, 2022, South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R) announced that an initiated state statute to expand Medicaid will appear on the ballot for November 8. The initiative will appear on the ballot as Initiated Measure 28.

This is the third measure to appear on the South Dakota ballot this November, and the second measure that would expand Medicaid.

The campaign supporting the measure, Dakotans for Health, submitted 23,000 signatures on May 3, 2022. In South Dakota, a citizen initiated measure needs 16,961 valid signatures to appear on the ballot. The Secretary of State then verifies the signatures using a random sample method. Based on the random sample, 17,249 signatures were deemed valid.

If enacted, Initiated Measure 28 would expand Medicaid to adults between 18 and 65 with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level.

Another measure on the South Dakota ballot this November, Constitutional Amendment D, would also expand Medicaid in the same way. However, Constitutional Amendment D would amend the South Dakota Constitution, while Initiated Measure 28 would amend state statute.

Former Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Rick Weiland (D), who sponsored the initiative with Dakotans for Health, stated that he would like to see both measures pass.

“My hope is that both of these will pass and it will send a very strong message to the people in power, to our legislature, to the governor,” Weiland said.

Weiland says that he views Initiated Amendment 28 as a backup plan in case Constitutional Amendment D is not successful. 

“I think it’s really important that voters know that they’ve got two paths forward to pass Medicaid expansion this fall,” Weiland said, “A constitutional amendment, now an initiated law, and we’re encouraging them to vote for both.”

There three measures currently set to appear on the South Dakota ballot in November are:

  • Constitutional Amendment D, an amendment to the South Dakota constitution which would require South Dakota to provide Medicaid benefits to adults between 18 and 65 with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level.
  • Initiated Measure 27, an initiated state statute which would legalize marijuana for people 21 years old and over.
  • Initiated Measure 28, an initiated state statute which would also expand Medicaid to adults between 18 and 65 with incomes below 138% of the federal poverty level.

In South Dakota, 32 citizen-initiated measures have appeared on the ballot between 2000 and 2020. Twelve of them (37.5%) were approved and 20 of them (62.5%) were defeated.

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Amendment C defeated in South Dakota

Amendment C was defeated by South Dakota voters on June 7, 2022.

With 99.7% of precincts reporting, the ‘No’ vote was at 67.43% (122,387), and the ‘Yes’ vote was at 32.57% (59,111), with a total of 163,014 voting on the amendment.

The amendment would have changed the voter requirement threshold for future ballot measures, and may have impacted ballot measures appearing on the South Dakota ballot in November. It could have impacted Constitutional Amendment D, an initiative appearing on the November 2022 ballot that would expand Medicaid in South Dakota.

Currently, in South Dakota, a measure that appears on the ballot needs a simple majority vote (50%+1) to be adopted. Amendment C would have changed this, specifically pertaining to measures that would increase taxes or fees, or that would require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years. Instead of requiring a simple majority from voters, Amendment C would have changed the threshold to a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote.

Amendment C was the only ballot measure that appeared on the June 7 ballot.

Zach Nistler, a spokesperson for South Dakotans for Fair Elections, told KELOLAND News that South Dakota voters came out to keep the majority rule for ballot measures. “South Dakotans are paying attention,” Nistler stated, “South Dakotans are listening and engaged and we trust South Dakotans to make important decisions for our state. That is why over 60% of South Dakotans showed up to oppose Amendment C and protect our majority rule.”

State Rep. Jon Hansen (R-25), the South Dakota representative who sponsored the amendment, told Argus Leader that the amendment failed due to the influence of out-of-state groups. “Unfortunately, Amendment C came up short today because liberal groups who want to tax and spend our money on their own special interest programs poured a million and a half dollars – the majority of that coming from out of state – into false and misleading advertising,” Hansen stated.

Through May 18, South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes, which campaigned for Amendment C, received $905,988, including $836,488 from Americans for Prosperity and $50,000 from the Opportunity Solutions Project. South Dakotans for Fair Elections, which campaigned against Amendment C, received $1.63 million. The largest donors were the National Education Association ($455,960),

The Fairness Project ($367,696), Avera Health ($250,000) and Sanford Health ($250,000)

With the defeat of Amendment C, the Medicaid initiative on the South Dakota ballot in November will only need a simple majority vote to pass.

“Today, the people of South Dakota have preserved their right to use direct democracy,” said Kelly Hall, executive director of The Fairness Project, an organization that campaigned against Amendment C, “This victory will benefit tens of thousands of South Dakotans who will choose to use the ballot measure process to increase access to health care for their families and neighbors, raise wages, and more policies that improve lives. We look forward to what’s next in South Dakota: an aggressive campaign to expand Medicaid in the state.”

In November, voters in at least three other states will decide on legislative proposals to change citizen-initiated ballot measure processes. In Arkansas, electors will vote on a constitutional amendment to increase the vote requirement from a simple majority to 60% for citizen-initiated measures and constitutional amendments.

Since 1985, voters in South Dakota have approved 26 legislatively referred constitutional amendments. They have now rejected 27.

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Amendment C on the June 7 ballot for South Dakota voters

In South Dakota, one statewide ballot measure will appear on the June 7 primary ballot. Amendment C would change the vote requirement for future ballot measures, and may impact measures appearing on the ballot this November. Amendment C is the only statewide ballot measure that will appear on the June 7 ballot in South Dakota.

Currently, in South Dakota, a measure that appears on the ballot needs a simple majority vote (50%+1) to be adopted. Amendment C would change this, specifically pertaining to measures that would increase taxes or fees, or that would require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years. Instead of requiring a simple majority from voters, Amendment C would change the threshold to a three-fifths (60%) supermajority vote.

The amendment was first introduced by Rep. Jon Hansen (R-25) on Feb.  2, 2021. The measure passed the House on Feb. 16, 2021, with a vote of 56-12. Initially, the measure was set to appear on the November 2022 general election ballot. However, Senate president pro tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-5) sponsored an amendment to the resolution to instead place it on the June 2022 primary ballot. The Senate passed the amended resolution on March 2, 2021, with a vote of 18-17, and the House concurred on March 4, 2021, with a vote of 51-17. All Democratic legislators voted against the amendment, while the votes among Republicans were split 18-14 in the Senate and 51-10 in the House.

The election date change was debated among legislators and ballot measure campaigns, specifically because the effects of Amendment C would impact another measure set to appear on the November ballot—Constitutional Amendment D, an initiative which would expand Medicaid in South Dakota. Sen. Schoenbeck stated that his motivation to push Amendment C to the June 2022 ballot was specifically due to this Medicaid expansion initiative. “I put it there because I want it to be in place—if the voters approve it—for the general election that’s going to happen because we’re going to have Medicaid expansion there,” Schoenbeck said. “I don’t happen to support more welfare. I want to have a higher threshold for when we vote on that in November. That’s why it’s on the primary ballot. There’s no other reason.”

Dakotans for Health, the campaign supporting Constitutional Amendment D, filed a referendum petition attempting to require Amendment C to appear on the November ballot rather than the June ballot, but Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R) rejected the petition, finding that constitutional amendment resolutions are not subject to referendum petitions.

Americans for Prosperity is the largest donor to the campaign in support of Amendment C, the South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes PAC. Americans for Prosperity has contributed $836,488 in in-kind donations to the PAC, and has stated that Amendment C “will protect South Dakota from tax-and-spend groups who want to use the ballot process to bypass the elected legislature.” South Dakotans Against Higher Taxes has raised a total of $905,988 in contributions.

The campaign in opposition to Amendment C, South Dakotans For Fair Elections, has raised $1.63 million in contributions. Top donors include the National Education Association ($455,960), The Fairness Project ($367,696), Avera Health ($250,000), and Sanford Health ($250,000). Health organizations, such as Sanford Health, have argued that Amendment C could make expanding Medicaid more difficult. 

“Medicaid Expansion, for example, is on the general election ballot this November to expand access to care and it would be at significant risk. Requiring a 60% vote to pass a citizen-backed initiative limits the power of South Dakota voters by creating such a high bar,” stated Paul Hanson, president of Sanford Health.

Three states already require a supermajority vote for some ballot measures:

  • Washington requires three-fifths (60%) approval from all voters casting a ballot on initiatives or referendums related to gambling.
  • Utah requires a two-thirds (66.67%) vote for the approval of any initiatives concerning the taking of wildlife.
  • Florida requires a 60% vote for the approval of constitutional amendments, whether citizen-initiated or legislatively referred.

In addition, another state, Arkansas, will vote on a measure requiring a 60% vote to adopt constitutional amendments and citizen-initiated state statutes appearing on their ballot in November.

South Dakota voters will make the decision on Amendment C when they go to the voting booth next Tuesday, June 7. Since 1985, voters in South Dakota have approved 26 legislatively referred constitutional amendments and rejected 26.

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Marijuana legalization initiative qualifies for the South Dakota ballot

On Wednesday, South Dakota Secretary of State Steve Barnett (R) announced that a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana was certified for the ballot. The measure will be titled Initiated Measure 27, and will appear on the general election ballot in November.

South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws led the campaign to place the measure on the ballot, submitting their signature petition on May 3rd, 2022. A random sample found 25,023 signatures to be valid, surpassing the 16,961 signature requirement.

“We are confident that we can achieve victory for the second consecutive election, pass Initiated Measure 27 by a strong margin, and restore the will of the people,” Matthew Schweich, campaign director for South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, stated in a press release.

If voters approve Initiated Measure 27 in November, the measure will legalize the possession, use, and distribution of marijuana for people aged 21 and over. In South Dakota, the medical use of marijuana was made legal in 2021 after voters passed Initiated Measure 26 in 2020.

Marijuana was previously on the ballot as a constitutional amendment in South Dakota in 2020, referred to as Amendment A. Voters approved of the measure with 54% of the vote, but the measure was overturned by a circuit court ruling in February 2021. Circuit Judge Christina Klinger found the measure unconstitutional, stating that it violated South Dakota’s single subject rule, and was a revision of the constitution rather than an amendment. Melissa Mentele, executive director of New Approach South Dakota, filed the new marijuana initiative in 2021 as a state statute rather than a constitutional amendment. Unlike Amendment A, Initiated Measure 27 does not establish a framework for marijuana taxation or commercial cannabis cultivation, instead leaving these details up to the state.

In South Dakota, 32 citizen-initiated measures appeared on ballots in the 20-year period between 2000 and 2020. Out of these 32 measures, 12 (37.5%) of the measures were voters, while 20 (62.5%) of them were defeated. There is currently one other measure certified for the November general election ballot, referred to as Constitutional Amendment D, which will require South Dakota to provide Medicaid benefits to adults between 18 and 65 with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level.

Nationwide, there are 15 potential or certified ballot measures in seven states related to marijuana. Maryland is currently the only other state with a certified marijuana measure on the ballot in November. Voters in Arkansas, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, and Oklahoma may also see the issue on their ballots.

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State legislative incumbents in South Dakota are facing more contested primaries than at any point since 2010

Thirty-five of the 71 South Dakota state legislators running for re-election this year—all Republicans—face contested primaries. That equals 49% of incumbents, the highest rate since 2010.

A contested primary is one where more candidates are running than there are seats up for election. In South Dakota’s Senate, every district has one seat, so a primary is contested if two candidates from the same party file to run. Most House districts have two seats, meaning at least three candidates from the same party must file to create a contested primary.

The total number of primaries—including those without incumbents—also reached its highest level since 2010. With 72 districts, there are 144 possible primaries every election cycle. This year, 41 (29%) are contested: two Democratic primaries and 39 Republican. For Democrats, this is the same number as in 2020. For Republicans, this represents a 44% increase.

The filing deadline for candidates running for state or federal office in South Dakota this year was March 31. Candidates filed to run for all of the state’s 70 House and 35 Senate seats.

Thirty-four of those seats were left open, meaning no incumbents filed to run, the most since 2016 when there were 43 open seats.

Thirteen of the open seats this year came due to term limits, with incumbents unable to seek re-election by law. South Dakota’s term limits are chamber specific, meaning a term-limited senator cannot seek re-election to the Senate but can run in the House. This year, four term-limited incumbents filed to run in a new chamber.

  • Sen. Gary Cammack (R) is running in House District 29, creating a primary including incumbent Rep. Kirk Chaffee (R) and newcomer Kathy Rice (R). Two candidates will advance to the general election.
  • Rep. Mark Willadsen (R) is running in Senate District 9 against newcomer Brent Hoffman (R).
  • Rep. Arch Beal (R) is running in Senate District 12 in an uncontested primary.
  • Rep. Shawn Bordeaux (D) is running in Senate District 26 in an uncontested primary.

Additionally, Rep. Steve Haugaard (R) is running for governor against incumbent Gov. Kristi Noem (R). No incumbent governor has lost a primary when running for a second term in South Dakota.

Overall, 216 major party candidates filed to run this year: 53 Democrats and 163 Republicans. That’s 2.1 candidates per seat, an increase from the 1.9 candidates per seat in 2020.

South Dakota has been a Republican trifecta since the party won control of the Senate in 1994. Republicans currently hold a 32-3 majority in the Senate and a 62-8 majority in the House, the party’s largest majority since the early 1950s.

South Dakota’s state legislative primaries are scheduled for June 7, making them the 14th in the nation.

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Signatures for marijuana and Medicaid initiatives submitted in South Dakota

In South Dakota, two separate campaigns submitted their petition signatures on May 3 to get their initiatives on the ballot in November. The signatures were submitted to the secretary of state’s office on Tuesday afternoon.

One initiative, sponsored by the Dakotans for Health campaign, aims to expand Medicaid in South Dakota to adults between 18 and 65 years old with incomes below 133% of the federal poverty level, which is currently about $18,000 for an individual or $37,000 for a family of four. This statutory initiative is in addition to a constitutional amendment that is already on the ballot—Constitutional Amendment D, which also expands Medicaid but amends the constitution. The co-founder of Dakotans for Health argued that voters may be more supportive of an initiated law rather than a constitutional amendment.

The other initiative aims to legalize marijuana for those 21 and older. This measure joins a group of potential marijuana ballot measures in 2022—one marijuana ballot measure is already certified in Maryland, while 18 total marijuana ballot measures have been proposed in other states in 2022.

Both campaigns have reported submitted over the threshold of signature requirements. Campaign director of South Dakotans for Better Marijuana Laws, Matthew Schweich, stated that circulators collected 19,250 signatures. Meanwhile, 23,000 signatures were filed for the Medicaid expansion measure. 

Each campaign must have at least 16,961 verified signatures to qualify for the ballot. In South Dakota, this number is equal to 5% of votes cast in the previous gubernatorial election.

In South Dakota, 47 initiatives appeared on the ballot between 1985 and 2020. Twenty (42.6%) of these initiatives were approved by voters, while 27 (57.5%) of them were defeated.

If both initiatives qualify for the ballot, they will join two other ballot measures already certified on the South Dakota ballot in November—Constitutional Amendment C, and Constitutional Amendment D. Constitutional Amendment C would require a three-fifths supermajority vote for initiatives that increase taxes or fees that require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years.

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No Democrats file for South Dakota’s U.S. House seat for second election cycle

Two candidates filed to run for South Dakota’s one U.S. House seat in 2022. The filing deadline for this election was March 29. This is the fewest number of candidates to file for the seat since 2016 (when there were also two candidates). Three candidates ran for the seat in 2020, and six candidates ran in 2018.

Here are some other highlights from this year’s filings:

  • This is the second election cycle in a row with no Democratic candidate on the ballot.
  • Because it has only one U.S. House seat, South Dakota did not need to redistrict after the 2020 census.
  • Rep. Dusty Johnson (R) is running for re-election. He was elected in 2018 when Kristi Noem (R) retired to run for governor.

The primary election will take place on June 7, making it the 20th state to hold a primary election in 2022. The winner of the Republican primary will face no Democratic Party opposition in the general election, so the seat will not change party hands.



South Dakota House impeaches state attorney general for actions related to 2020 fatal crash

The South Dakota House of Representatives impeached Attorney General Jason Ravnsborg (R) on April 12 for his actions related to a car accident that killed a pedestrian in September 2020. The state House voted 36-31 to approve House Resolution 7002 (HR 7002) which states, “A RESOLUTION, Providing for the impeachment of Jason Ravnsborg, Attorney General of the State of South Dakota, for certain crimes and for malfeasance in office.”

Twenty-eight Republicans and eight Democrats voted in favor of the resolution and 31 Republicans voted against it.

Ravnsborg fatally struck a pedestrian while driving on Sept. 12, 2020. An investigation led by the South Dakota Highway Patrol found that Ravnsborg was distracted at the time of the crash, and that his car left the road before it struck the victim. Toxicology reports showed that he was not under the influence of alcohol or other drugs at the time of the incident.

Ravnsborg was charged with three misdemeanors, including careless driving, operating a motor vehicle while using a mobile electronic device, and driving out of a lane in Feb. 2021. He pleaded no contest to two of the charges while the third charge—careless driving—was dropped on Aug. 26, 2021.

The South Dakota House Committee on Impeachment voted 6-2 against impeaching Ravnsborg on March 28.

Ravnsborg was elected attorney general after defeating Randy Seiler (D), 55% to 45%, in the general election in 2018. Ravnsborg was unopposed in the Republican primary that year. Ravnsborg finished fifth in the GOP primary for one of South Dakota’s U.S. Senate seats in 2014.

According to Joe Sneve of the Sioux Falls Argus Leader, Ravnsborg is the first official ever impeached in South Dakota and was required to take a leave of absence as attorney general until his trial in the Senate. The Argus Leader also reported that a chief of staff in the attorney general’s office said that Chief Deputy Attorney General Charlie McGuigan would lead the office during Ravnsborg’s absence.

Sneve wrote that the Senate trial can begin no earlier than May 2 and that Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck “has indicated a trial might not commence until early June.”



Governor Noem signs bill to prohibit teaching certain divisive concepts in public universities

South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem (R) on March 21, 2022, signed a bill to prohibit critical race theory in public universities. The bill blocks public universities from incorporating divisive concepts into orientation and training materials that would prompt people to feel discomfort about their race. 

Noem has described the bill as a rejection of critical race theory but the text of the bill does not reference critical race theory directly. Instead, the law bans university orientation or training materials from promoting divisive concepts, including the notion “that any race, color, religion, sex, ethnicity, or national origin is inherently superior or inferior.”  

Noem said in a release, “No student or teacher should have to endorse Critical Race Theory in order to attend, graduate from, or teach at our public universities,” according to US News.  

Advocacy Manager Jett Jonelis of The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) of South Dakota, which opposed the bill, argued that, in their view, “It opens the door for a wide range of interpretations that could be used to chill free speech and academic freedom, discouraging open and honest discussions about systemic racism in classrooms and in higher education communities,” according to The Hill. 

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Voters will decide on legislative proposals adding restrictions to ballot initiative processes in Arizona, Arkansas, and South Dakota in 2022

Voters in at least three states will decide legislative proposals to change citizen-initiated ballot measure processes this year. Legislatures in Arizona, Arkansas, and South Dakota have passed constitutional amendments on ballot initiatives, and additional constitutional changes are being considered in Arizona and Missouri.

In 2020, voters decided legislative referrals on ballot initiatives in Arkansas, Florida, Montana, and North Dakota, with the proposed changes rejected in Arkansas, Florida, and North Dakota, and approved in Montana.

The first vote on an initiative-related constitutional amendment will be on June 7, 2022, in South Dakota. Amendment C would require a three-fifths (60%) vote at an election to approve ballot measures designed to increase taxes or fees or require the state to appropriate $10 million or more in the first five fiscal years following enactment. The state Legislature passed the constitutional amendment in March 2021. Senate and House Democrats opposed the proposal. Republicans were divided 69 to 24.

Supermajority requirement: A vote requirement above a simple majority is considered a supermajority requirement. Currently, Colorado, Florida, and New Hampshire have supermajority requirements for constitutional amendments. Illinois requires a 60% vote for constitutional amendments or a simple majority of every ballot cast. Seven other states have laws on the minimum percentage of ballots cast in an election and ballot measure approval. In addition, Washington state requires a 60% vote on gambling-related referendums, Utah requires a two-thirds vote on initiatives concerning the taking of wildlife, and Florida requires a two-thirds vote on amendments that enact new taxes or fees.

In Arizona, voters will decide constitutional amendments at the general election in November. Republicans in the legislature backed two proposals that would make changes to the ballot initiative process. Legislative Democrats opposed both.

One would allow legislators to amend or repeal voter-approved ballot initiatives if any portion has been declared unconstitutional or invalid by the Arizona Supreme Court or U.S. Supreme Court. Initiatives sometimes include severance provisions, so that if one provision is struck as unconstitutional, other provisions can remain binding. Under the proposal, an initiative could be repealed regardless of severance if any provision is struck down. Currently, the Legislature cannot amend or repeal voter-approved ballot initiatives due to Proposition 105 (1998), also known as the Voter Protection Act, with an exception for changes that further a measure’s purpose and receive a three-fourths vote in each legislative chamber. 

The other amendment in Arizona would add a provision to the state constitution that requires citizen-initiated ballot measures to embrace a single subject. The ballot measure would also require the initiative’s subject to be expressed in the ballot title, or else the missing subject would be considered void. Based on a 2017 state Supreme Court ruling, the state constitution’s existing single-subject rule applies to legislative bills but not citizen-initiated measures.

Single-subject rule: Laws that require legislation, such as ballot initiatives, to address a single subject are called single-subject rules. Of the 24 states that allow for initiated constitutional amendments or statutes, 16 of them require initiatives to conform to a single subject.

A third constitutional amendment is also being considered in Arizona. The Arizona House voted 31 to 28 on Feb. 22, 2022, for an amendment to require a three-fifths (60%) vote for voters to approve citizen-initiated measures and constitutional amendments. House Republicans and House Democrats divided on the proposal, with the former supporting and latter opposing the change.

Similar to the proposal in Arizona, the Arkansas State Legislature passed a constitutional amendment requiring a three-fifths (60%) vote for voters to approve citizen-initiated measures and constitutional amendments. Voters will decide the issue on Nov. 8. In the Arkansas House, 72 Republicans and 2 Democrats approved the amendment, and 1 Republican and 17 Democrats opposed it. In the Senate, the vote was divided along party lines, with Republicans voting for and Democrats voting against.

The Missouri House of Representatives approved a constitutional amendment that would increase the number of required signatures for initiated constitutional amendments from 8% of voters in six of the state’s eight congressional districts to 10% of voters in all eight of the congressional districts. The proposal would also require a two-thirds (66.67%) vote of voters to approve a ballot measure. Democrats, along with seven Republicans, opposed the amendment, while 98 Republicans voted to refer the changes to voters. The Senate needs to pass the amendment by a simple majority to put the amendment on the ballot.

Distribution requirement: A requirement that petitions must be signed by voters from different political subdivisions in order for a ballot measure to qualify for the ballot is called a distribution requirement. Of the 26 states that provide for initiatives or referendums, 16 of them have distribution requirements.

The three measures that Arizona, Arkansas, and South Dakota legislatures put on the 2022 ballot were among 231 legislative proposals related to state and local ballot measures and recall processes that Ballotpedia tracked in 2021. Thirty-six proposals were approved, including bills that have already been signed into law. In 2021, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Maine, Montana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah legislatures passed restrictions on the initiative processes in their states.

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