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A few weeks ago, Senator Tony Vargas and his wife, Lauren Micek Vargas, posted a public video with information about the condition of his parents, Lidia and Antonio Vargas, who had both been diagnosed with coronavirus. Lidia (71) and Antonio (72), who immigrated to the United States from Peru in the 1970’s, live in Long Island, NY where Senator Vargas grew up. His mother was able to remain quarantined at home and has since recovered.
His father, with more severe symptoms, became a patient at an intensive care unit at a local hospital. Antonio was in critical condition and on a ventilator for 31 days until he passed away on Wednesday, April 29, 2020 at 4:17 a.m. ET.
“My father has always been a source of quiet strength for our family. He has always been a fighter and, for the last month, fought for his life, to overcome this disease. Words cannot describe what this loss means for me, my mother and brothers, and all of our family and friends here in the U.S. and in Peru,” said Vargas.
Senator Vargas would like to remind the public that COVID-19 cases in Nebraska are continuing to rise and that we all must continue to be cautious, especially for our most vulnerable populations. “This is deeply personal for me. I don’t want another family to go through what we are experiencing right now. Please, if you can, continue to stay home, wash your hands frequently, practice social distancing and wear a mask in public. If you have symptoms, call a healthcare provider and get tested right away. By doing this, we have the opportunity to prevent this tragedy for others and stop this virus from spreading even further.”
“And to all our elected, community, public health, and medical leaders across the state, please take every precaution and step to protect the health and well-being of Nebraska’s working families, especially the workers on our front lines, including healthcare professionals and food processing and meatpacking plant workers.”
Learn what it’s like to serve as a state senator! The Unicameral Youth Legislature is a four-day legislative simulation in which high school students take on the role of lawmakers. Student senators sponsor bills, conduct committee hearings, debate legislation and discover the unique process of the nation’s only unicameral.
The Unicameral Youth Legislature gives behind-the-scenes access to students who have an interest in public office, government, politics, law, public policy, debate or public speaking. Students will learn about the inner workings of the Legislature directly from senators, staff and lobbyists. Bill topics are based on legislation considered during the most recent legislative session. From driving laws to the death penalty, topics selected for the legislature are diverse and engaging.
Legislative activities are conducted at the Nebraska State Capitol Building in the historic Warner Chamber, which was home to the Nebraska Senate until the state consolidated to a one-house legislature in 1937.
The youth legislature is organized by the Nebraska State 4-H Office and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension Office youth development program. The Clerk of the Nebraska Legislature, through the Unicameral Information Office, serves as a technical consultant for the Unicameral Youth Legislature.
Registrants are encouraged to apply for a Greg Adams Civic Scholarship award, which covers the full cost of admission. Applicants must submit a short essay. Other $100 scholarships are also available.
It’s so important for all of us to keep up-to-date on the latest updates about COVID-19 / coronavirus. Our local public health departments are doing all they can to keep us informed and work towards identifying and containing cases. This year I was proud to lead the fight for an increase in funding for our 18 public health departments — and it’s even more critical now than I knew it would be when I introduced the proposal in January. As Vice Chair of the Executive Board and a member of our Appropriations Committee, I’ll be working with other legislative leaders towards ensuring we are doing all we can to keep our communities safe and healthy. You can find the latest info about coronavirus below.
Lincoln, Neb. — Today, three senators from Omaha introduced four bills (LBs 1037, 1038, 1039, and 1040) to address the lack of access to healthy, affordable foods for workers, families, and children across Nebraska.
“It’s hard to reconcile the fact that 200,000 Nebraskans struggle with food insecurity when they’re living in America’s breadbasket,” said Senators Hunt, Vargas, and Cavanaugh in a joint statement. “Even in a state with expanses of farmland and ranches, many families are worried about how to feed their kids. Every hungry family, every hungry child is relying on answers from our state government.”
LB1040 from Senator Vargas (District 7) would appropriate money to the Department of Agriculture to manage and grow Double Up Food Bucks, a program that doubles the value of federal nutrition (SNAP or food stamps) benefits spent at participating markets and grocery stores. The Double Up program began in Lincoln in 2017, and has since grown to nine locations and benefited more than 700 families. Double Up is currently managed by Nebraska Extension with help from the Department of Agriculture.
“Double Up Food Bucks has been an incredibly successful program with a huge impact for families and farmers over the past few years. LB1040 will grow that program while helping people bring home more healthy fruits and vegetables and supporting local farmers,” said Senator Vargas.
Senator Hunt’s (District 8) LB1038 would remove SNAP restrictions on an individual with three or more felony convictions for possession or use of a controlled substance if they participate in a substance abuse program. The bill would remove a major barrier to successful reintegration for formerly incarcerated people, while reducing hunger for the individuals and their families that are negatively affected by this restriction. LB1037 would ensure that eligible children aren’t removed from benefits due to someone in the household being disqualified. Under the current SNAP system, if one person in a household is disqualified from participation in the program, the entire family loses access.
“Over 600,000 individuals are released from state and federal prisons every year who face monumental barriers to attaining employment and housing. Restricting access to basic necessities for these populations perpetuates the cycle of poverty and increases rates of recidivism.” said Senator Hunt. “Additionally, Nebraska’s current rules around SNAP qualification exclude children who live in a household with an adult who may not qualify. Children shouldn’t go hungry because our state hasn’t adopted this common sense, compassionate approach.”
LB1039 from Senator Cavanaugh (District 6) would create the Hunger-Free Schools Program, ensuring that every public school student in Nebraska is provided with breakfast and lunch during the school day at no cost to their family. Participating schools will be reimbursed by the Nebraska Department of Education for the total difference between their expenses and federal reimbursement. Schools will also maximize their participation in federal reimbursement programs such as the Community Eligibility Provision, bringing Nebraskans’ tax dollars back to Nebraska.
“With over 80,000 children in Nebraska facing food insecurity, meals at school are one of the most effective tools available to ensure they get the nutrition they need and deserve,” Senator Cavanaugh said. “Studies have shown that well-fed students are well-performing students, receiving better grades and better health. By making these meals freely available to all public school children, regardless of income, we can eliminate needless bureaucracy, better prepare our children for educational success, and let our educational professionals focus on education.”
The 2019 session is adjourned sine die! There are several days and moments from this session that I will never forget, but none are more consequential or important to me than February 14th. My wife and I celebrated our Valentine’s Day by welcoming our first child, Ava Kaye, into the world. For those of you who are parents, you know that having a child changes your life in many incredible, sometimes sleep-depriving ways. Ava has made me a more empathetic legislator. She has allowed me to join an esteemed group of colleagues in the Legislature who are also parents. Ava has made me more impassioned than ever to work hard to give her and her generation a fair, just, prosperous Nebraska.
This session was our busiest yet. We introduced 26 bills! Of those 26, 7 have passed and 13 have made it out of committee. The seven bills we passed were LB 292, LB 478, LB 678, LB 694, LB 713, LB 737, & LB 739. The legislation we passed will:
One of my favorite parts of my job is engaging with our community. This year, I responded to over 650 constituent concerns, met with over 300 students, and held over 50 hours of conversations with constituents and community leaders. I look forward to every chance to communicate with my friends and neighbors in District 7, and I would like you to be on the lookout for more information about upcoming town halls. To stay informed, follow our blog at nebraskalegislature.gov for highlights from the session and on the social media handles below.
Every day I am honored to represent District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature. Even more importantly, I am thrilled to come home to District 7 every night to my family. Lauren and I could not be more excited to raise Ava in a community that values inclusivity, love, and diversity. As Ava grows older I know her neighbors in downtown and South Omaha will value her and our community. And I will fight every day to promote District 7 values to make Nebraska an even better place to call home for everyone.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me or my office at 402.471.2721, email@example.com, or any social media. Our Legislative Aide, Meg Mandy, Administrative Aide, Sam Colwell, and all of our interns are willing and excited to help.
Senator Tony Vargas
Nebraska Legislature, District 7
Facebook: @TonyVargasNE; Twitter: @TonyVargas;Instagram: @tonyvargasne
I just wrapped up my third year on the Appropriations Committee! I knew when I entered the Legislature that if I wanted to make a direct difference for District 7, I had to go to the committee that makes some of the most consequential decisions for our state. I have worked during my time on Appropriations to provide a voice not often heard in the budget process — the voice of the son of Peruvian immigrants with working class roots, a first generation college graduate, a millennial legislator, a former teacher, and a young, newly minted father, representing a growing district whose concerns were largely absent when setting a statewide budget.
You’ll often hear that a budget is not just numbers, it is also a value statement. This year, I am proud that our committee put together a budget that provides important funding for not only early education and the greater K-12 system, but also for higher education in the forms of the Nebraska State College System, Nebraska Community Colleges and the University of Nebraska. We provided important reimbursement rates for our nursing care, behavioral/mental health, child welfare, and development disability providers. We promoted fiscal restraint by attempting to shore up our cash reserves for future generations. This committee made a distinct effort to understand how the budget effects every-day Nebraskans, and I am proud of our product. Too often, the budget debate is centered around finding programs and services to cut. This year, we managed to change the narrative by investing in programs and services to benefit Nebraska’s greatest natural resource: our people.
For me, the budget is emblematic of the fact that when you have a seat at the table, your voice can be heard. And when you have nine diverse voices working together to reach a compromise, you can pass a strong budget for Nebraska.
Last weekend, my wife and I had the opportunity go on our first date night in nearly three months. In between raising our amazing two-month-old daughter, the daily trek to and from the Capitol, and running a nonprofit, there simply has not been a night for Lauren and I. My family will always be the most important part of my life, but I also was elected to represent nearly 40,000 of my neighbors in downtown and South Omaha.
I am lucky to be in a position where I can make sacrifices, but I fully recognize that for so many, public office is unattainable and offers little incentive to sacrifice valuable family time. That is why I introduced LR12CA, which will ask voters to raise legislator pay to 50% of Nebraska’s median household income. It is my hope that LR12CA will make elected office more accessible for thousands of Nebraskans as we seek to build a more representative Legislature in Lincoln.
At $12,000 per year, Nebraska falls far behind many states with similar costs-of-living, such as Arkansas, Michigan, and Iowa. When considering inflation, average legislator pay has decreased substantially over the past 30 years, especially in states like Nebraska which haven’t increased pay since 1989.
This low salary prevents many Nebraskans from participating in government at the highest capacity. Nebraska boasts of a citizen legislature, but can we really say that honestly when so many of our fellow Nebraskans are essentially precluded from serving in office due to the financial barrier?
Higher legislative pay has several benefits. First, candidate recruitment becomes less difficult. Lawmakers and advocacy groups on both sides of the political aisle in Nebraska who once opposed increasing legislator pay now support it because they are struggling to recruit candidates. Second, it allows a broader range of citizens to consider running for office. Higher pay enables Nebraskans of all income-levels and in all districts to consider elected office.
Let’s hear it for fiscal responsibility!
Nebraska is one step closer to providing a viable future for our future generations. LB 713, or the PLAN Act, has been advanced to Select File!
The population of Nebraska is increasingly urban, aging, and racially and ethnically diverse. However, our current fiscal situation for the state is not set up to support our changing demographics. Not only are we constitutionally prohibited from incurring debt, but revenue has been volatile over the past two biennial budgets and the Legislature has depleted cash reserves with no plan or projection to restore the balance in anticipation of future downturns in revenue or economic cycles.
LB713 adds a new step in the legislature’s budgeting process by requiring the Legislative Fiscal Analyst to create additional revenue and budget reports throughout the biennium. These reports include: a revenue volatility report in even-numbered years, a budget stress test in odd-numbered years, and a long-term budget for major programs every four years.
In honor of National Women’s History Month, I want to take a few moments to recognize some of the amazing and strong women in my life.
This year, I am especially grateful for the addition of a beautiful baby girl into my life. This week marked Ava’s due date. Though she arrived a few weeks early, I can’t blame her for being so excited to meet her mom, Lauren. I am so thankful that Ava will have such an incredible woman in her life that she can look up to, find solace in, and cherish. Lauren is my best friend, partner, and a fantastic role model for what a strong, fierce, and independent woman looks like.
I was raised by a mother who instilled in me the importance of love, hard work, and family. Though she lives a thousand miles away, she is always guiding me, and I know that she is only ever a phone call away. She remains one of my best friends, and I was thrilled to welcome her to Nebraska to hold Ava for the first time.
I’m thankful for my mother-in law, Kaye, who has always been a strong, determined, and caring individual who fights for her family. I am grateful for her stepping in to help us while Ava was in the NICU and Lauren was recovering.
I also would not be here without one of my closest friends, who also happens to be my Legislative Aide, Meg Mandy. Meg has been with me every step of the way in the Legislature. Her determination, heart, and intelligence is indispensable as we seek to make lasting change in District 7.
This National Women’s History Month is particularly important for the Nebraska Legislature, as this session has the most female senators in Nebraska history. We still have a lot of work to do, but these fourteen senators provide a voice and perspective that has been absent in our body for far too long.
This month, please celebrate all of the wonderful women in your life, and understand that it is not enough to simply recognize them, but we must always — every day — listen to, uplift, and empower women.
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