Saturday, January 31, 2015

Montana Senate Panel Fails Its Own "Add the Words" Bill

Posted By on Sat, Jan 31, 2015 at 12:09 PM

The line to testify before the Montana Legislature was drastically shorter than the line in Boise on Jan. 26. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • The line to testify before the Montana Legislature was drastically shorter than the line in Boise on Jan. 26.
While many of Idaho's constituents are still reeling from last week's failure of the "Add the Words" bill in the House State Affairs Committee, Montana's state legislature came to a similar conclusion on Friday.

Unlike the three days of testimony and another morning of debate and discussion among committee members in Boise, Montana lawmakers heard testimony, voted against and tabled a bill that would provide protection for gay, lesbian and transgender people in the state, according to the Missoulian.

The bill was originally introduced by Sen. Christine Kaufmann of Helena, an openly lesbian Democrat who told her fellow lawmakers that the law needs to reflect the changes in the world. 

"This is adding to the human rights law people who are experiencing discrimination," Kaufmann said. "It does not take liberties away from people."

Just like in Idaho, the measure in Montana would have added the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the state's Human Rights Act, protecting members of the LGBT community from discrimination in housing and employment. Just like in Idaho, many supporters and opponents lined up to testify—using many of the same arguments against discrimination and for business freedom.

"I can love them but not bake them a wedding cake," said one woman who was against the bill.

And just like in Idaho, the bill failed along party lines by a 7-5 vote in the Republican-led committee. But unlike Idaho, where testimony lasted 22 hours, the Montana committee only heard two hours of testimony from the public before making the decision.
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Thursday, January 29, 2015

After Historic Three-Day Hearing, Idaho's Add the Words Bill Dies in Committee

Posted By on Thu, Jan 29, 2015 at 11:57 AM

  • Harrison Berry
Minutes after Idaho's "Add the Words" bill was defeated in a 13-4 party-line vote Jan. 29, a huge group of the bill's supporters, hands covering their mouths as they did during protests in 2014, had lined the wall of the Senate side of the Garden Level of the Idaho Statehouse. Between Jan. 26-29, their cause had gone from being a demonstration in support of adding  "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to Idaho's human rights law, into a bill. In five minutes, it had gone back to being a demonstration.

Democratic Reps. Paulette Jordan (Plummer), John McCrostie (Garden City) and Melissa Wintrow (Boise)—who, along with Rep. Elaine Smith (D-Pocatello), represented the bill's sole supporters on the House State Affairs Committee—made the rounds, hugging and consoling weeping allies of the movement.

"This is a historic day in our history," Wintrow told the demonstrators. "And we're on the right side of it."

The Add the Words movement indeed has some history—nine years of it. Meanwhile, in the absence of state action, individual cities across Idaho have created nondiscrimination ordinances protecting their LGBT citizens from discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations. So have numerous states across the country as awareness increases of the discrimination LGBT people face. But in the Lincoln Auditorium half an hour earlier, members of the House State Affairs Committee told an audience of mostly supporters of the bill why they disagreed with the measure—or why they thought it would be ineffectual.

"When we carve out protections for one group, they're taken from another," Dalton Gardens Republican Rep. Vito Barbieri said. "This bill is a sword, not a shield."

Rep. Peter Nielsen, a Republican from Meridian, explained why he would vote against sending the bill to the House floor in a long speech about being taught decency and fairness by his parents, rather than nondiscrimination being enforced by law.

"You can't legislate the things I learned as a kid," he said.

Nielsen said during his primary election, he was never asked by his constituents about "adding the words," but now his phone messaging system and email inbox are full of testimony that's largely against the bill.

Rep. McCrostie hugging a supporter of the Add the Words bill - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Rep. McCrostie hugging a supporter of the Add the Words bill
Lava Hot Springs Republican Rep. Ken Andrus worried that "if we pass this legislation, I think we're going to create a barrier" between the LGBT community and "so-called straight" people. What's more, he said, "hundreds of thousands of people" may feel like the bill before the committee would infringe on the religious liberty of those who see "LGBT" as an acronym for a "lifestyle" contrary to their values.

Many of the bill's opponents indicated that they believe creating protections for LGBT people in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations  would impinge on the "sincerely held" religious beliefs of others. But those committee members in favor of forwarding it to the House floor disagreed, arguing that LGBT people face discrimination that won't go away on its own.

"I do not believe human rights should be up to a popular vote," said Wintrow. 

McCrostie, Idaho's only openly gay lawmaker, agreed, saying that when one group is discriminated against, discrimination in general is permitted to grow.

"This isn't the gay guy casting the gay vote for the gay bill," he said. 

When the final roll was called and the Add the Words bill went down to defeat, a low wail came up from the audience. Over three days, nearly 200 people had testified on the bill—134 in favor, 54 opposed and two neutral. On Jan. 29, as with other days of the hearings, the crowd was made up mostly of supporters. Members of Idaho's LGBT community had waited nine years for such a bill to appear before a legislative committee, and even after almost 22 hours of testimony, their desire to see it through to its conclusion had not dimmed. Nevertheless, the despondence in the room was palpable, and it followed the crowd into the hall and the world beyond. 

Walking out of the Capitol, a young woman with tears in her eyes lit up a cigarette and paused at the top of the stairs leading to the Garden Level.

"I don't know why I'm so disappointed," she said.
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Monday, January 26, 2015

Reporter's Notebook: Add the Words, The First Morning

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 1:08 PM

Steve Mounkes of Wilder drove to Boise to voice his opposition to HB 002 - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Steve Mounkes of Wilder drove to Boise to voice his opposition to HB 002
Jan. 26, at 8 a.m., the House State Affairs Committee began hearing testimony on HB 002—better known as the Add the Words bill—which would add  the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to Idaho's human rights law. The proposed law would make it illegal to discriminate against people in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations. 

HB 002 is titanically controversial. During the 2014 legislative session, members of the Add the Words movement were arrested for obstructing entrances to legislative meeting rooms, including the House and Senate chambers. In all, more than 100 arrests were made. Opposition to the bill has been fierce, as well, and has come from some faith and civic groups that see "adding the words" as creating a specially protected class of citizens that enjoy special rights trumping even the free practice of religion. 

Nowhere was this tension more evident than in the line extending from the Lincoln Auditorium, where the HSAC meeting was to be held, almost all the way across the Capitol's Garden Level; but there was a general excitement about participating in the political process. University of Idaho student Sarah Jacobsen, of Hayden, said this was her second time at the Capitol, though it was her first time "being a constituent."  

Steve Mounkes had driven from his Wilder home to testify against the bill. He wrestled with a sign taped to a ruler that read, "Are you really going to Dictate what we can say or do in our Businesses and Churches? We have a name for that: Tyranny. The 1st Amendment guarantees free speech!"

Mounkes told BW that "a judge shouldn't have the power to overrule the people." 

Jessica Peters said that someone at her church whose daughter works at the Capitol told her that "Preachers could be thrown in jail" for refusing to conduct same-sex marriages. Peters was in line with her husband and four small children to oppose the bill. 

Jessica Peters (middle) worries that passage of HB 002 would mean that pastors who do not perform same-sex marriages could be thrown in jail. - HARRISON BERRY
  • Harrison Berry
  • Jessica Peters (middle) worries that passage of HB 002 would mean that pastors who do not perform same-sex marriages could be thrown in jail.
A few feet away from Peters, a group of young people huddled somberly over a camera. High-school students elsewhere in line had skipped class to testify in favor of the bill. Veterans of the Add the Words movement who'd been led out of the Statehouse in handcuffs in 2014 chatted amiably with Idaho State Police officers. 

Inside the Lincoln Auditorium, testimony was balanced between those in favor and those against the bill, though some, including Idaho Falls City Council Member Barbara Erhardt, testified that the broader conversation surrounding HB 002 is lopsided.

"The LGBT community has controlled this conversation ... painting anyone who disagrees with [HB 002] as a bigot," she said.

Testifying before the committee, however, members of the LGBT community told legislators about discrimination that they'd experienced. Some had been sexually assaulted, denied service and bullied, and for them, HB 002 would create a legal framework for addressing systemic injustices.

Julie Zicha spoke about her son, who suffered housing and employment discrimination, as well as physical abuse and other forms of bullying. After sending his parents a text message telling them it wasn't their fault, he killed himself in 2011. 

"I knew this was a goodbye message," she said. Zicha now works with at-risk LGBT youths. 

Others, testifying in favor of the bill, said that the bill satisfies a pre-existing need in the state for protections.

Cameron McCowan, a business owner from Meridian, told the committee that the state already prohibits religious discrimination—religion being something people can choose—but since sexual orientation and gender identity aren't choices, there's a glaring legal gap.

"Members of the LGBT population really don't have a choice" about their sexuality, he said.

Testimony is set to continue the evening of Jan. 26, beginning at 5 p.m.

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Reporter's Notebook: Scores of Idahoans Wait to Testify at Add the Words Hearing

Posted By on Mon, Jan 26, 2015 at 10:52 AM

Stepping into the Capitol Building early Monday morning, one could sense the vibrations of a large crowd. Yet the first, second and third floors of the Statehouse were almost completely empty. But descending to the garden level of the statehouse revealed the source of the cacophony.

Even at the early hour of 7 a.m., the west wing of the Capitol Building was packed. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Even at the early hour of 7 a.m., the west wing of the Capitol Building was packed.
Several hundred people had filled the entire west wing hallway, all lined up on an historic morning to testify and observe the House State Affairs Committee on HB2—otherwise known as the Add the Words bill. It's taken nine years for advocates to get the ear of a committee in a hearing. From 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. and again from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, Idahoans will get their chance to testify.

Rev. William Thomas Howie plans to sit through the entire hearing—no matter how long it takes. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Rev. William Thomas Howie plans to sit through the entire hearing—no matter how long it takes.
One of those voices belonged to William Thomas Howie, a pastor for White Stone Ministries in Meridian. He got to the statehouse at 7 a.m. in opposition of the bill. He said he doesn't plan to testify unless he needs to, and he'll sit through the entire hearing—no matter how long it takes.

When asked about other religious groups that support adding the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act, he said, "these churches that show support have strayed from the word of God."

"If you're going to stand in the face of God and tell him he did it wrong, you've got some—" he stopped himself, and decided not to finish the sentence. "I'll stay [at the hearing] the whole time."

Further down the line, a group of Boise High School students got permission from their parents to miss their morning classes and come to the hearing—though none of them plan to testify. They skipped pre-calculus, Advanced Placement language/composition, AP government and P.E. to stand in the lengthy line. 

"My mom thought it was important that I go. She can't come because she's at work," said Mojan Farid. The teenagers said the Add the Words movement have been a topic of discussion in their government classes, though they said most of their peers are in agreement that the words should be added.

Mojan Farid, wearing the white shirt, along with her friends from Boise High School, missed morning classes to witness what some are calling history. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Mojan Farid, wearing the white shirt, along with her friends from Boise High School, missed morning classes to witness what some are calling history.

The Lincoln Auditorium filled up quickly, leaving still more than 400 people in the halls, waiting to testify and being herded into three overflow rooms to watch the hearing streamed live

Jennafer Mitchell and her children came from Homedale for the hearing. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • Jennafer Mitchell and her children came from Homedale for the hearing.
In all the bustle, Jennafer Mitchell shepherded her three homeschooled children—ages 7, 8 and 10—toward the front of the line. She drove from Homedale to show her opposition for the bill.  

"Our founding fathers faught for this, for us to be able to speak our opinions," Mitchell said. She said businesses shouldn't be forced to do anything against their beliefs.

"This isn't the Civil Rights Movement," she said. "And it has nothing to do with sexuality. Business owners should be able to choose."

When asked if they were having fun at the statehouse on this historic morning, two of her children nodded their heads half-heartedly while the third scrunched up her face and shrugged. "Kind of," she said. "Maybe it's fun."

At the end of the line, stood retired veteran David Heavener, openly frustrated
David Heavener said he's not here to support or oppose gay rights. He's here to support democracy and representative government. - JESSICA MURRI
  • Jessica Murri
  • David Heavener said he's not here to support or oppose gay rights. He's here to support democracy and representative government.
 about the long wait. He said he expected some sort of expedited process for those wanting to testify, versus those just there to watch. 

"Maybe the statehouse didn't plan for this many people to show up," he said. "Or maybe it's not a priority in the state of Idaho to listen to their people."

Heavener said he was not at the hearing to advocate for or oppose gay rights. He pulled out a small sheet of paper to give his testimony a read-through.

"Idaho's digging it's feet in like a bunch of buried potatoes," he said. "The bill to add the words—its time has come to move forward for a vote by the people, not to be stifled in a committee."

As Heavener spoke to Boise Weekly, the hearing was already underway. Those left in the hallway—waiting for their chance to speak before their legislators—couldn't hear a word of what was happening in the hearing or the full overflow rooms. All they could do was wait.

"I'm feeling very isolated from my government right now," Heavener said. "But you are the press and I'm talking to you. Maybe this is another way for me to testify and for my voice to be heard."

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Sunday, January 25, 2015

Faith Groups Buy Billboards Supporting HB 002 "Add the Words"

Posted By on Sun, Jan 25, 2015 at 10:29 AM

A raw image of billboards across Idaho urging support of HB 002, the "Add the Words" bill.  - INTERFAITH ALLIANCE OF IDAHO
  • Interfaith Alliance of Idaho
  • A raw image of billboards across Idaho urging support of HB 002, the "Add the Words" bill.

HB 002, the "Add the Words" bill, is already one of the most visible currently being considered by the 2015 Idaho Legislature. Now it's even more prominent after a coalition of Idaho faith organizations purchased billboards across the state urging lawmakers "to protect our gay and transgender family members."

Interfaith Alliance of Idaho, Interfaith Equality Coalition and Liberating Spirit-Metropolitan Community Church, have purchased billboards at three locations in the Treasure Valley—eastbound on the I-84 connector at the River Street exit, on the corner of Fairview and Maple Grove roads and on Caldwell Boulevard west of Karcher Road in Nampa—as well as in Lewiston and Pocatello.

In a press release, the faith groups expressed a belief that the bill includes "adequate religious exemptions," referring to some critics' concerns that adding "sexual orientation" and "gender identity" to the state's human rights law (effectively banning discrimination based on these criteria in the areas of housing, employment and public accommodations) would infringe on their religious beliefs. 

"No one's rights, including those provided for in our state's constitution regarding religious faith, liberty, and worship, should ever inflict harm upon or jeopardize the safety or well-being of another individual," according to the release.

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Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce Endorses Add the Words, Uber

Posted By on Sun, Jan 25, 2015 at 9:45 AM

  • image by Kelsey Hawes
At 8 a.m. on Monday, Jan. 26, the House State Affairs Committee will hear testimony regarding HB 002—better known as the "Add the Words" bill, which would add "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" protections to the Gem State's 1960s-era human rights law. 

Members of the committee will hear from many supporters of the bill, including members of the public, members of the Boise City Council, former Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson, faith leaders and civil rights advocates from across the state. Add to the list one more important supporter: the Boise Metro Chamber of Commerce.

BMCC issued a press release on Jan. 24 reiterating its support of the nondiscrimination ordinance, quoting BMCC President and CEO Bill Connors, who described discrimination based on gender identity and sexual orientation as "bad for business" because it projects a negative image of Idaho.

"If you look in terms of the message we want to send to the rest of the world, it just makes sense for us as a business organization," Connors told Boise Weekly.

The statement is significant because nondiscrimination ordinances—municipal ordinances that are the citywide analogues to HB 002—have been criticized as infringing on the rights of business owners, like in the case with the north Idaho wedding chapel The Hitching Post, which has refused to conduct same-sex wedding ceremonies on religious grounds.

Connors said that though individual business owners' concerns with nondiscrimination ordinances and HB 002 should be taken on a "case-by-case basis," "the concept of [addressing] discrimination in the workplace is something the Chamber certainly would support."

The press release also indicated BMCC's support of rideshare service Uber, stating that the Chamber sent a letter to City Hall requesting that the City Council "find a solution which would allow Uber to operate in Boise."

The city of Boise and Uber had agreed that Uber would provide its service for free during negotiations toward a long-term arrangement under which Uber could charge its customers. Negotiations broke down in December 2014, when Uber began charging customers. On Dec. 31, the city sent Uber a cease and desist letter

Other issues the Chamber added to its 2015 legislative agenda include "local support for the Gowen STRONG coalition, the LIV Boise Early Childhood Education Initiative, and the St. Luke’s Master Plan; and statewide support for appropriations for technology investments, funding for Small Business Development Centers on college campuses and state university building appropriations."

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Thursday, January 22, 2015

Add the Words Hearings Begin 8 a.m., Monday, Jan. 26, at Idaho Statehouse

Posted By on Thu, Jan 22, 2015 at 8:02 AM

It will be a very early wake-up call Monday morning, Jan. 26, for Add the Words activists. But it's something they've been waiting nine years to set the alarm clock for. They're hoping to wake up enough Idaho legislators next week to add the words "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the Idaho Human Rights Act.

The Idaho House State Affairs Committee, chaired by Iona Republican Rep. Tom Loertscher has already set aside all of Monday's and Tuesday's meetings for the hearing. Loertscher said he's prepared to carry over into Wednesday if necessary.

Madelynn Taylor, the Idaho veteran who waged a battle to see the ashes of her late same-sex spouse interred at the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery, said she's planning to be one of the first in line speak before the committee.

"I'll be here [at the Idaho Statehouse] Monday morning as soon as the doors open to get my name on that list for the hearing," Taylor told Boise Weekly.

Taylor was also one of the dozens of Idaho LGBT advocates to be arrested in 2014 during a string of protests at the Statehouse in last year's effort to get an Add the Words hearing. 

The House State Affairs Committee is slated to gavel into session at 8 a.m. Monday, and for those who can't make it to the Statehouse, they'll be able to follow the proceedings live through the Idaho in Session Legislature Live service on the Legislature's website. The service is provided by Idaho Public Television.

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Monday, January 19, 2015

Video: MLK / Idaho Human Rights Day Draws Hundreds to Two Statehouse Celebrations

Posted By on Mon, Jan 19, 2015 at 2:40 PM

  • Farzan Faramarzi

The Idaho Statehouse played host to not one, but two Martin Luther King Jr. / Idaho Human Rights Day celebrations Jan. 19.

The first event began mid-morning with Boise State University students and community members marching north on Capitol Boulevard to the Idaho Statehouse, where they gathered on the Capitol steps at 11:30 a.m. to celebrate Dr. King's legacy, and show how the standards he set for human rights across the United States were very much alive today.

Jasmine Herrick, community organizer and Boise State student, told the crowd that civil rights change faces new roadblocks in the 21st century, but stressed that creating change on a community level is no less important in 2015 than it was in the 1950s and '60s. 

Jasmine Herrick speaking on the Capitol steps. - FARZAN FARAMARZI
  • Farzan Faramarzi
  • Jasmine Herrick speaking on the Capitol steps.

"If [Martin Luther King, Jr.] were alive now, his act would be considered an act of domestic terrorism because it blocked traffic," she told the crowd of mostly students.

For her, however, silence on the issue of establishing equal protections for all under the law only encourages those who would marginalize and abridge the rights of others.

"When we are silent, we send the message that we can be brutalized with no consequence," she said. 

Much has changed in the half century since the civil rights movement began to make headway in the United States: Though the Civil Rights Act was signed into law in 1965, speakers said there remains much work to be done. Associated Students of Boise State University President Brian Vlok told the crowd that "social justice isn't extinct, and that he looks forward to the challenges and victories the movement faces in the future.

  • Farzan Faramarzi

"What will we do in the next 50 years?" he asked the crowd.

A few speakers who took to the podium said that one of the current horizons of the civil rights movement in Idaho is the Add the Words campaign, which seeks to add "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the state's 1960s-era human rights law. 

"This year there will be a hearing for [a bill currently in committee in the Idaho legislature to add the words], and you have a role," said Francisco Salinas, Boise State Director of Diversity and Inclusion, calling on the community to write letters to members of the legislature encouraging them to support the passage of the bill. 

Meanwhile, inside the Statehouse was a more formal commemoration - the noontime Martin Luther King Jr. / Human Rights Day celebration. There, emcee and Idaho Sen. Cherie Buckner Webb introduced several speakers, including Lieutenant Governor Brad Little, who filled in for Gov. C.L. "Butch" Otter during the ceremony, and read a gubernatorial proclamation of MLK Human Rights Day.

Rabbi Dan Fink delivered the keynote address. - FARZAN FARAMARZI
  • Farzan Faramarzi
  • Rabbi Dan Fink delivered the keynote address.

Following a performance by the Common Ground Community Chorus, Rabbi Dan Fink delivered the keynote address, "The Pursuit of Justice Begins with Truth."

"Thanks to civil rights laws passed in the last 50 years, you live in a more just nation," he told hundreds who watched him from three floors of the Capitol Building. 

Fink said, however, that the fight for equal rights for all is far from won, echoing Salinas' call for the Idaho State Legislature to "add the words." He said that there are three ways that the truth—and consequently justice—is impeded when it comes to providing justice for Idaho's LGBT citizens: "averting our gaze" and not seeing that there's a problem; failing to recognize the injustices LGBT people face in Idaho; and rationalizing our collective failure to provide legal protections. 

"The laws provide just recourse unless you are lesbian, transsexual or gay," he said. "Justice is a rising tide."

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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Add the Words Hearing Gets Go-Ahead From Idaho House Committee

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 6:37 PM

A bill that would add the words "sexual orientation" and "gender identity"to the Idaho Human Rights Act has been formally introduced by a 6-1 vote of the House Ways Committee.

After a brief 5 p.m. meeting of the committee, the bill, RS (routing slip)  23324, introduced by House Minority Leader Rep. John Rusche, was cleared for a full hearing expected to take place the week of Monday, Jan. 26.

"This is really a simple bill. ... It's really a question of fairness," Rusche told the House Ways and Means Committee, which is traditionally used to quickly introduce newly proposed legislation. 

GOP Rep. Brent Crane cast the only dissenting vote.

Add the Words organizer Lisa Perry said, "We’re looking forward to telling our legislators why these protections would help ensure that people who work hard and meet their responsibilities have the chance to get ahead. We need to Add The Words, nothing more, nothing less.” 

Proponents of Add the Words legislation will return to the steps of the Idaho Capitol this Saturday, January 17 at noon to rally their resolve.  Among Saturday's expected speakers are new Idaho House Representative Paulette Jordan and soon-to-retire Boise Police Chief Mike Masterson.
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Add the Words Bill Surfaces at Idaho House Ways and Means Committee Tonight

Posted By on Wed, Jan 14, 2015 at 2:17 PM

For the better part of a decade, the Add the Words movement has struggled to get Idaho legislators to consider adding "gender identity" and "sexual orientation" to the state's 1960s-era human rights law. But tonight, that movement will score an unprecedented victory when the House Ways and Means Committee introduces a bill that will do just that.

The hearing was announced this afternoon by House Speaker Scott Bedke, who said that the committee will hear the bill at 5 p.m. It will be presented by House Minority Leader John Rusche. Bedke also said that a full hearing will be scheduled for the week of Monday, Jan. 26.
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