Welcome to the Minnesota Senate. Whether you are visiting the Capitol in person, watching live, gavel-to-gavel coverage of a committee or floor session, or simply reading about the legislative process, this Guide is designed to provide information to help you understand state government and participate in the democratic process.
Branches and levels of governmentThe United States Congress, State Legislatures, Minnesota Legislature, Local Government, County Government, City Government, Township Government, Urban Townships, Special Taxing DistrictsThe Senate in ActionSenate LeadershipThe Senate DeskVoting board letter codesThe Orders of BusinessAn explanation of the various floor session agendasHow a Bill Becomes LawA detailed description of the path a bill must take in order to become lawSecretary of the Senate
Media Services, Information Offices, Office of the Chief Clerk, House Index, Senate Publications Office, Legislative information on the Internet, Legislative Reference Library, Capitol Tours, Cafeterias, Senate Galleries and Committee Hearings, Parking, Assistance for persons with special needs
The Senate in actionThe Minnesota Legislature has long been a leader in providing public access to the legislative process. In recent years, the Minnesota Senate has demonstrated national leadership by taking the innovative step of providing gavel-to-gavel television coverage of Senate floor sessions and selected committee hearings.
Viewers at home are able to watch Senate proceedings, complete with all the action and drama, just as if they were seated in the Senate Gallery or in a committee hearing room. And, sometimes the action may seem chaotic. The following is intended as a viewer's guide to the legislative process. Whether you are visiting the Capitol in person or watching on television, this guide will help you follow the action.
Senate leadershipAs floor sessions begin, Senators file into the Senate Chamber. The Chamber, restored in 1988 to reflect the Senate Chamber designed by architect Cass Gilbert in 1905, retains the original ideal envisioned by Gilbert while accommodating the technological needs of the 1990s. Two of the desks in the Senate Chamber are distinguishable from the others in that the microphones are mounted on extended holders. These two desks belong to the Senate Majority Leader and the Senate Minority Leader.
The Majority Leader is the leader of the caucus, or political party, that has the most members. The Majority Leader directs the business of the Senate and is considered the leader of the Senate. The Majority Leader guides each daily floor session through the formal agenda of the Senate. The Minority Leader is selected by the members of the minority party to be their spokesperson. The presiding officer is the President of the Senate. Members elect a Senator, usually a senior member of the majority caucus, to serve as the President of the Senate. In addition to presiding over floor sessions, the President of the Senate also makes the initial decision about referring bills to the appropriate committee for hearing.
Every Senator has a desk in the chamber. Seats in the Senate are allotted, primarily through seniority, with members of each caucus seated together. Although it is common to hear members of each party speaking of being on one or the other "side of the aisle," in Minnesota, both caucuses spread across the full width of the chamber. Each desk has three buttons: "aye," "nay," and "page." Two electronic voting boards, on either side of the Chamber, indicate that a vote has been cast. "Aye" shows up green on the board and "nay" shows up red on the board. Running tallies of ayes and nays are indicated underneath the list of Senators' names as is other pertinent information. The "page" button summons a page to perform an errand, such as distributing copies of an amendment.
At the beginning of a floor session a Senator, usually the Majority Leader, will request a "call of the Senate." Senators enter the chamber and indicate their presence by pressing the "aye" button on their desks. When a majority, or quorum, of Senators is present, the floor session begins.
The Senate DeskWhen viewing a floor session of the Senate, either while watching gavel-to-gavel coverage on television or in person from the Senate gallery, you will notice that one of the most active areas in the Chamber is the "Senate Desk." The desk is a term used to describe both the large desk at the front of the Chamber and the many activities conducted at the desk centering around the actual enactment of legislation. The primary role of the Senate Desk staff is to insure that the Senate functions smoothly and conforms to Senate rules and the various laws that relate to the process of enacting legislation.
The President of the Senate, or a designee, presides over the Senate from the Senate Desk. Seated just below the President are the Senate Desk staff. In addition to their duties at the Senate Desk, each staff person has administrative responsibilities away from the Chamber. For instance, directly in front of the president is the Secretary of the Senate, the chief administrative officer of the Senate. The Secretary of the Senate's main functions are to act as parliamentarian and as administrator of the internal operations of the Senate.
The Secretary of the Senate calls the roll to begin each floor session and reads the items under the various orders of business on the agenda. The production of the Senate Journal, all calendars, the introduction and engrossment of Senate bills and the certification of bills passed are under the direction of the Secretary of the Senate. The Secretary of the Senate advises members of the Senate on parliamentary procedure, reads bills and other documents, and coordinates the procedural functions of the session.
In Minnesota, in order for a bill to become law it must be read three times. However, the reading of bills is actually the reading aloud of the bill's number. Bills are assigned Senate File numbers upon introduction. Each bill is then usually referred to by its Senate File number. Thus, when it is time for the second reading of Senate bills, the Secretary will read a series of Senate File numbers. (Bills originating in the House receive House File numbers.) The actual bills are printed and placed in binders at each Senator's desk
The Secretary of the Senate also reads any amendments that are proposed for bills under consideration by the Senate. Again, in order to expedite the process, the Secretary will read aloud just the beginning of the amendment. Copies of amendments are distributed to all Senators. The Secretary of the Senate also opens and closes the electronic voting machine that records and stores each Senator's vote.
Seated just to the Secretary of the Senate's right is the Third Assistant Secretary of the Senate. The Third Assistant's main function is to compile the Senate Journal. The Senate Journal is a record of all formal actions of the Senate. The Journal follows the orders of business set forth in the agenda. In addition, the Journal includes the reports of Senate committees, amendments adopted to bills during a floor session and recorded roll-call votes taken during the session. A Senate Journal is prepared for every day that either Legislative body meets in floor session. A Permanent Journal is compiled at the end of a year's legislative session containing all the Daily Journals.
The Third Assistant Secretary compiles the Journal from previously printed items and by building copy as actions are taken during the floor session. For instance, when a recorded vote is taken on a bill, a copy of the vote is attached to the bill's title for inclusion in the Journal. At the end of each day's session, the material for the Journal is formatted, indexed and printed. The Daily Journal is then available the next day.
Seated at the far right of the Senate Desk is the Fourth Assistant Secretary of the Senate. The primary responsibility of the Fourth Assistant Secretary is running the electronic voting system. In addition, the Fourth Assistant keeps a set of minutes for comparison with minutes kept by the Secretary of the Senate and the First Assistant Secretary to insure accuracy in compiling the Senate Journal. The Fourth Assistant Secretary also relieves the Secretary of the Senate at the podium, schedules Chaplains for the opening of each daily session and generally assists the Secretary of the Senate.
The electronic voting system, in addition to tallying ayes and nays, also prints out a copy of each vote. The Fourth Assistant Secretary sees that copies of each vote are distributed to the Secretary and the First Assistant Secretary. The voting boards also provide additional information about the item of business under consideration, and it is the Fourth Assistant Secretary's responsibility to see that the voting board is correctly programmed.
The voting boards list all of the Senators alphabetically. When a vote is taken, the light beside each Senator's name indicates either green for aye or red for nay. At the bottom of the board are letters and numbers that indicate exactly what is under consideration. For example, S.F. 2231 means that Senate File 2231 is being voted upon.
The following is a key to the letter code of the voting board:
||A Amendment AA Amendment to an amendment or an amendment as amended FP Final passage FA Final passage as amended FC Final passage concurrence (Senate bills returned as amended from the House) CC Conference Committee report final passage M Motion SR Senate Resolution SCR Senate Concurrent Resolution HCR House Concurrent Resolution
Seated to the left of the Secretary of the Senate are the First and Second Assistant Secretaries of the Senate. The primary responsibilities of the First and Second Assistant Secretaries are the processing of bill introductions, messages from the House of Representatives, bills reported out of committee, motions and all the other written material that is a part of the legislative process. The Senate Agenda, the General Orders, the Senate Calendar, the Consent Calendar and the Confirmation Calendar are all compiled by the First and Second Assistant Secretaries from the written materials for computerization and printing.
There are four copies of every bill introduced in the Senate. The First and Second Assistant Secretaries of the Senate are responsible for assigning a Senate File number to the bill and for seeing that the copies are distributed appropriately.
The First and Second Assistant Secretaries of the Senate also receive amendments and keep track of the amendments and the appropriate bills. Sometimes there may be as many as twenty or thirty amendments for a particular bill. The First and Second Assistant Secretaries make sure that the right amendment is read at the right time.
In addition, any communication with the House of Representatives is conducted through the First and Second Assistant Secretaries of the Senate. As actions are taken upon items begin considered during a floor session, the First and Second Assistants are compiling material for the next floor session's agendas and calendars.
The Orders of Business
Link to The Orders of BusinessAlthough sometimes it may seem that the action is chaotic, Senate floor sessions follow a set agenda. The agenda lists various orders of business that the Senators must accomplish each daily session. There are thirteen Orders of Business on the agenda:
Orders of Business
First order of business Petitions, letters, remonstrances; Second order of business Executive and official communications; Third order of business Messages from the House of Representatives; Fourth order of business First reading of House bills; Fifth order of business Reports of committees; Sixth order of business Second reading of Senate bills; Seventh order of business Second reading of House bills; Eighth order of business Motions and Resolutions; Ninth order of business Calendar; Tenth order of business Consent Calendar; Eleventh order of business General Orders of the day; Twelfth order of business Introduction and first reading of Senate bills. Thirteenth order of business Announcements of Senate Interest
Each daily session begins with the Secretary of the Senate calling the roll. A majority of Senators must be present for the session to proceed. Because there are 67 Senators, that means that 34 Senators must be present to begin the Session. After the roll is called, the Senate Chaplain gives a short prayer. The Pledge of Allegiance is recited the first day of any week the Senate convenes.
The Senate then begins to go through the day's agenda.
Many of the items under each order of business are printed on what is known as the "Blue Agenda" and may not be read or discussed individually.
The first order of business--petitions, letters and remonstrances--is an archaic item dating from a time when the means of communications between elected officials and citizens were not so available.
The second order of business, executive and official communications, consists of messages from the governor or secretary of state. These messages are usually in regard to appointments to executive branch positions that must be approved or "confirmed" by the Senate. These messages are generally printed in the blue agenda and are referred to various committees for future consideration. Examples of other messages include veto messages from the governor or chapter letters from the secretary of state.
The third order of business, messages from the House, consists of messages from the other body about actions taken by the House. For instance, the House may have granted final passage to a Senate bill but may have made some changes to the bill. The House must then send a message to the Senate informing the Senate of the actions the House has taken. The chief sponsor of the Senate bill then must decide on the next action. There are two primary responses the Senator may make. The sponsor may request that the Senate agree with the changes the House made and repass the bill, or the sponsor may not like the changes and ask that the Senate appoint a conference committee to work out the differences.
Other messages may be requests for a conference committee, announcements of the passage of Senate bills without changes, or other announcements of House activity. These items are printed, when possible, in the blue agenda and are acted upon individually.
The fourth order of business, the first reading of House bills, is the reading of the House File number of bills that have originated and gained final passage in the House. After being read, the House Files are assigned to the appropriate Senate committees for consideration. The number and title of each bill are printed in the blue agenda, along with the name of the committee to which the bill is to be sent. All of the items of the fourth order of business are usually acted upon as a group.
The fifth order of business, reports from committees, is also usually acted upon as just one item. The reports contain the committee's recommendation for the future progress of a particular bill and any changes made to the bill by the committee. Just the number, title, recommendation and whether the bill is to be amended are printed in the blue agenda. The Senate Journal for the next day will contain the actual amendments or changes that the committee made.
The sixth order of business, second reading of Senate bills, is the reading aloud of the bills' Senate File numbers. The President of the Senate announces "Second reading" before the Secretary of the Senate reads the Senate File numbers to fulfill part of the constitutional requirement that each bill be read three times.
The seventh order of business, second reading of House bills, is very similar to the sixth order of business. The President of the Senate announces "Second reading of House bills" and the House File numbers are simply read aloud.
The eighth order of business, motions and resolutions, is comprised of several items. For example, the addition of a Senator's name as an author of a bill, Senators' requests to have their names removed as an author of a bill, and congratulatory resolutions to groups or individuals are contained in the eighth order of business. Many of the more simple motions and resolutions are printed in the blue agenda and are approved all at once through a single motion.
Frequently, the Senate will remain on the order of business of motions and resolutions for the balance of the day's floor session. This is done to make it easier to move back and forth among the various orders of business. Unless the Senate is on the order of business of motions and resolutions, it would not be possible to go backward through the agenda, or to skip forward through the agenda, without a suspension of the rules. And, sometimes because of the way messages are received from the House, or because of the flow of paperwork, it speeds the entire process along by being able to move from one item of business to another out of order. In addition, toward the end of the year's session when there is a large amount of legislation before the Senate, the Majority Leader, under the rules of the Senate, may designate specific bills as Special Orders. It is while on the eighth order of business that bills on Special Orders are considered. Each Special Order bill has been acted upon favorably by one or more standing committees, is subject to debate and amendment and may be considered for final passage. A bill on Special Orders thus bypasses the Committee of the Whole, is given a third reading after all discussion and amendments have been considered and receives a roll call vote. Thirty-four votes are needed for final passage of most bills.
The ninth order of business, the Senate Calendar, is a separate listing of the bills scheduled for final passage. Each bill has had two prior readings, has been acted upon by one or more standing committees, and has been printed. Each bill is given a third reading just before the vote is taken. Generally, there is little discussion of the bills on the Calendar and the bills are considered quite quickly. The bills are considered in the order in which they are listed on the Calendar, unless the chief author of the bill is not present in the Chamber. In such cases, the bill is "progressed," which simply means that no action is taken at that time. A roll call vote is taken for every bill on the Calendar and the vote is recorded in the Senate Journal. There must be 34 aye votes for most bills on the Calendar to be given final passage. Banking bills require a two-thirds majority (45 ayes) and bonding bills require a three-fifths majority (41 ayes) for final passage. Bills on the Calendar may not be amended unless there is the unanimous consent of all the Senators.
The tenth order of business, the Consent Calendar, is another separate listing of bills scheduled for final passage. Bills on the Consent Calendar, though, were considered noncontroversial by the committee that last heard the bill and were recommended for placement on the Consent Calendar as a way of speeding the legislative process. Bills on the Consent Calendar are explained by the chief author and given a third reading just before the roll call vote. In order to gain final passage, every bill must receive at least 34 ayes. If three Senators consider the bill controversial, it will be removed from the Consent Calendar and placed on General Orders. Bills on the Consent Calendar may be amended before the third reading.
The eleventh order of business, General Orders, is a listing of bills that have had two readings, have been acted upon by one or more standing committees and have been printed. In order to consider bills on General Orders, the Senate becomes one large committee known as the Committee of the Whole. The chief sponsor of each bill on General Orders explains the bill and answers any questions that other Senators may have. There is often extensive debate on the bills on General Orders. In addition, Senators may offer amendments to the bills on General Orders. Unless there is a request for a roll call vote by three Senators, bills on General Orders are voted upon by voice vote of a majority of those present in the Chamber. If approved, the bill is placed on the Senate Calendar to be considered for final passage.
The twelfth order of business, the introduction and first reading of Senate bills, is a listing of all the bills introduced that day into the Senate. The twelfth order of business is printed on a separate "Gray Agenda" and lists the Senate File Number, the title of the bill, and the committee to which the bill will be sent for consideration. If any Senator doesn't think the committee reference is appropriate, the Senator may object under "Rule 35." If there is a Rule 35 objection, the bill will be sent to a subcommittee of the Committee on Rules and Administration and the members of the subcommittee will decide which standing committee will consider the bill. In fact, Senators may also use the Rule 35 objection for bills found on the Fourth and Fifth Orders of Business.
The last order of business, the thirteenth order, is announcements of Senate interest. Usually the Majority Leader announces the date and time for the next floor session. Occasionally, there are other announcements such as Senators informing their colleagues of changes in a committee's schedule.
Secretary of the SenateMinnesotans can be proud of their Legislature. In addition to being among the most effective in the nation, the Minnesota Legislature is a national leader in providing services that encourage citizen participation and awareness of legislative activities. The Secretary of the Senate, located in Room 231 of the Capitol, directs the Senate's public information functions, including Senate Media Services, the Senate Information Office, and the Senate Publications Office.
Media ServicesViewers throughout Minnesota can watch Senate and House floor sessions and committee meetings, live on KTCI Public Television in the Twin Cities area and on Greater Minnesota Public Television stations. Capitol Report, a weekly public affairs program featuring state lawmakers and their views on pressing state issues, is broadcast weekly on public television stations throughout Minnesota. Viewers should check their local listings for program times. The following video tapes are available to the public on a check-out/return or purchase basis:
Rules, Laws and the Process--a seven minute videotape for 3rd and 4th graders that explains the lawmaking process and the state legislature;
Discover the Minnesota State Capitol--a five-minute introductory video tour of Minnesota's prominent historical structure;
The Citizen Lobbyist: Becoming Involved--a fifteen-minute video designed to help citizens become involved in the lobbying process;
Senate Media Services is located in Room B-44, State Capitol. The Phone number is 651-296-0264.
Information OfficesBoth the Minnesota Senate and House of Representatives have Information Offices to help keep the public informed of legislative happenings.
The Senate Information Office is located in the Secretary of the Senate's Office, in Room 231 of the Capitol (phone number 651-296-0504 or toll free 1-888-234-1112). The office serves as a central clearinghouse for all information about Senate activities. Staff members help individuals determine who represents them in the Senate, distribute literature about the Senate, distribute directories, provide daily meeting schedules, and answer questions about bill status, authorship and file numbers. You may also obtain copies of bills, calendars, journals and agendas from the Information Office. Staff members are available to answer general questions about the operations of the Senate. Computer terminals are available for members of the public to use to determine bill status, Senate File numbers and bill authorship.
The Minnesota Senate also offers TTY service for the hearing impaired. Located in Senate Index, the TTY telecommunications service allows deaf or hearing-impaired persons to communicate with Index staff in order to find out bill status, bill content and bill authorship. The telephone number for the TTY service is 651-296-0250 or toll free 1-888-234-1216.
The House Public Information Office is located in Room 175 of the State Office Building (phone number 651-296-2146 or toll free 1-800-657-3550). The office publishes Session Weekly, a report of the week's committee meetings and floor action along with the next week's committee schedule. In addition, the House Information Office publishes various brochures and pamphlets about the House of Representatives. A daily calendar is also published by the House Public Information Office. At the end of session, the office publishes New Laws, a summary of what was approved by the Legislature and signed into law, what was vetoed and what was considered but not approved. Staff members are available to answer questions about the operations of the House of Representatives and to help individuals determine who represents them in the House.
Both the House and Senate maintain 24-hour telephone lines with recorded messages giving the next day's committee schedules. The Senate "Hotline" number is 651-296-8088. The House of Representatives "Housecalls" number is 651-296-9283.
Office of the Chief Clerk of the HouseThe Chief Clerk's Office is located in Room 211 of the Capitol (phone 651-296-2314). The office provides copies of bills for the public. In addition, the office distributes calendars and agendas for each day of the legislative session. The Official Journal of the House of Representatives is also available from the Chief Clerk's Office.
House IndexThe House Index Office is the place to get information on specific House bills. The House Index Office is also located in Room 211 of the Capitol (phone 651-296-6646). You may obtain the House File number, the chief author and bill status from the House Index Office. In addition, a computer terminal is available to look up the information yourself.
Senate Publications Office
The Senate Publications Office publishes Senate Briefly, a weekly e-newsletter of Senate committee and floor action. The office also publishes web versions of the daily, weekly and monthly schedules.
Legislative Information on the Internet
Another innovation for the Minnesota Legislature is providing legislative information on the Internet. The Legislature's information service uses the World Wide Web (address http://www.leg.state.mn.us). The Legislative web site, a joint effort of the Legislative Reference Library, the Office of the Revisor of Statutes, and the Senate and House of Representatives, now serves as a convenient point for obtaining frequently requested information. A quick trip through the web site, available any time to Internet users, yields telephone numbers and mailing addresses for Legislators and Legislative staff, membership lists for each Legislative committee, full texts of bills and statutes, schedules of upcoming legislative meetings, summaries of current Legislative action, and more.
Another service makes it possible for the public to directly receive information about Senate committee schedules. The Senate Information Systems Office has developed a listserv that automatically sends the daily committee schedule to subscribers with Internet e-mail access. A "listserv" is a mailing list program designed to copy and distribute electronic mail to everyone subscribed to a particular mailing list.
To subscribe to the Senate listserv, simply send an e-mail message to:
In the mesage body type the following text:
A welcome message with information about how to unsubscribe from the listserv will then be sent to the new subscriber. Subscribers may discontinue the listserv subscription at any time by following the simple instructions. In addition, many Senate committees also use a listserv to distribute their schedule. You may contact the committee directly or view the committee's web page for subscription instructions.
Legislative Reference LibraryLocated in Room 645 of the State Office Building (phone 651-296-3398), the library has a range of services available to the public. Chief among these services is the collection of audio tapes of legislative committee hearings and House and Senate floor sessions. For convenient access to the tapes, there is a special listening room on the Ground Floor of the State Office Building. In addition, the legislative history of specific bills may be researched with the help of library staff.
Capitol ToursTours of the Capitol are conducted by the Minnesota Historical Society. The tours, which include historical and architectural highlights, are conducted on the hour from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday tours leave on the hour from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., and Sunday tours are conducted on the hour from 1 p.m. until 3 p.m. Groups of ten or more must make reservations by calling 651-296-2881.
CafeteriasThere is a cafeteria located in the basement of the Capitol Building and, during the Legislative session, a quick lunch counter is set up on the second floor of the Capitol Building. Another cafeteria operates during the Legislative session in the basement of the State Office Building. Year round cafeterias are also located in the Transportation, Judicial and Centennial Buildings.
Senate Galleries and committee hearingsVisitors are allowed in the Senate Galleries during sessions. The entrance is located on the third floor of the Capitol Building. No passes are necessary except during the opening day of the legislative session. Joint sessions of the House and Senate, held in the House Chambers, may also have restricted seating. No cameras or smoking are allowed in the Galleries. Visitors are not allowed on the Senate floor.
Committee hearings are open to the public and citizens are encouraged to attend. Each of the Senate Committees has a regular schedule for meetings. However, seating is limited by the capacity of the room and is most often on a first come, first serve basis. Senate committee meetings are held in the Capitol Building while House committee meetings are usually held in the State Office Building. Rooms 15, 107, 112, 123 and 125 in the Capitol Building are the main Senate hearing rooms.
ParkingParking is a perennial difficulty in the Capitol area. Metered spaces are available along the side streets adjacent to the Capitol Complex and several metered spaces are available for the public in Lot D, just north of the State Office Building parking ramp.
Assistance for persons with special needs
The Minnesota Legislature is committed to making the legislative process open and available to everyone, including persons with special needs. Toward that end, the Legislature has initiated a number of services designed to enable individuals with disabilities to participate in legislative activities, programs and services.
The Senate offers TTY service (651-296-0250 or toll free 1-888-234-1216), participates in the Minnesota Relay Service (651-297-5353 or toll free 1-800-627-3529) and has assistive listening devices available in hearing rooms, the House Chamber, and the Senate Chamber. The Minnesota Legislature has a contract with the Interpretive Referral Center of Doorways to provide sign language interpreter services for people who are deaf, deafblind or hard of hearing. Interpretive services from certified interpreters are available throughout the year to facilitate testimony at Legislative hearings and to interpret for those attending hearings. The service is also available for meetings between Legislators and groups of or individual constituents. In addition, interpretive services are available for legislative functions at the Capitol and throughout the state.
If you need sign language interpretation services, please contact the Interpretive Referral Center of Doorways at 651-224-6548 (v/tty) as soon as possible with the time and date you will need the service. Residents of northern Minnesota may call toll-free at 1-877-456-3839 (v/tty), and residents of southern Minnesota may call toll-free at 1-877-456-2021 (v/tty).
For assistance with any other special needs, please call the Senate Sergeant at Arms at (voice) 651-296-1119 or toll free 1-888-234-1112; or (TTY) 651-296-0250 or toll free 1-888-234-1216. The House of Representatives Sergeant at Arms can be contacted at (voice) 651-296-4860 or toll free 1-800-657-3550; or (TTY) 651-296-9896 or toll free 1-800- 657-3550.
The Minnesota Legislature is committed to complying with the provisions of the Americans with Disabilities Act and supports the goal that individuals with disabilities shall not be excluded from participating in or be denied the benefits of any program, service or activity offered by the Legislature. Effective communication is a necessary step in meeting that goal. Thus, the Legislature welcomes comments and suggestions from the public on services that will improve communication between the Legislature and individuals with special needs. Please direct comments to Director, Legislative Coordinating Commission, Room 85, State Office Building, St. Paul, MN 55155-1280.
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