NEBRASKA LEGISLATURE

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Sen. Tony Vargas

Sen. Tony Vargas

District 7

The content of these pages is developed and maintained by, and is the sole responsibility of, the individual senator's office and may not reflect the views of the Nebraska Legislature. Questions and comments about the content should be directed to the senator's office at tvargas@leg.ne.gov

Sine Die!
June 5th, 2019

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:

  • Increase access to affordable housing;
  • Protect and empower Nebraska children;
  • Encourage technology and innovation;
  • Promote clean energy;
  • Combat prison overcrowding; and
  • Provide long-term fiscal responsibility for our state.

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, tvargas@leg.ne.gov, or any social media. Our Legislative Aide, Meg Mandy, Administrative Aide, Sam Colwell, and all of our interns are willing and excited to help.

 

Best regards,

Senator Tony Vargas

Nebraska Legislature, District 7

Facebook: @TonyVargasNE; Twitter: @TonyVargas;Instagram: @tonyvargasne

Budget Passed!
May 29th, 2019

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.

https://journalstar.com/legislature/ricketts-signs-budget-with-direct-property-tax-cuts/article_09626812-13c7-50c1-a043-6e1b5a2eb35b.html?fbclid=IwAR1_gJK4QeDhEXIcuj1Ym6th7uv9v5tFttk7XXjZVO3GNlee4LjiZGlAGgY#tracking-source=home-the-latest

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.

I am so excited to invite students from across to participate in the first Future Community Leaders Forum on Saturday, June 1st at Flywheel.
I am passionate about empowering and uplifting the next generation of leaders in downtown and South Omaha. The Future Community Leaders Forum will be a wonderful, *free* introduction into many facets of public service for students.
We will place a preference on rising juniors through graduating seniors. We will have more information to follow, but the day will start at 9:00am and conclude at 4:00pm. We will have current Senators, campaign managers, and other public officials in attendance for a full day of engaging panels, workshops, and activities. These panels will include discussions with Senators regarding their career and path to office, as well as Q & A sessions. Activities and workshops will include working with Senator Vargas to explore core values, as well as designing and running a campaign with a successful campaign manager.
This will be a great opportunity for any student interested in public service, whether running for office, working behind the scenes, or just interested in volunteering.
For questions, please contact scolwell@leg.ne.gov. We look forward to seeing all of the engaged students of Omaha!
LB 713 (PLAN Act) Advances!
March 29th, 2019

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.

I think it is time that we get excited about genuine fiscal responsibility that ensures our state is prepared to support “The Good Life” for future generations of Nebraskans!

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.

First Town Hall!
March 7th, 2019

2/21 Update
February 21st, 2019

Hello neighbors!

I have some fantastic news to share. Our little miracle Ava Kaye Vargas was born on February 14th (Valentine’s Day) at 5:11pm weighing 5 lbs, 10 oz. She came into our lives five weeks earlier than expected and was admitted to the NICU. Fortunately, Ava is a fighter and has made amazing progress. We are all settling in at home now as a new family of three.

I am forever thankful for my amazing wife, partner and best friend, Lauren, for bringing Ava into this world. We couldn’t have asked for a better Valentine’s Day present.

In addition to the birth of my daughter, our office also had a busy week. Last Wednesday my Legislative Aide, Meg Mandy, introduced two bills to the Revenue Committee on my behalf. The first is LB 310, which would set a timeline for the Department of Revenue to issue the Historic Tax Credit. This tax credit is used by developers to rehabilitate and revitalize historic buildings, benefiting both rural and urban areas communities across our state.

She also introduced LB 477, a bill that will provide a tax exemption for recipients of the Segal Americorps Education Award. Similar to the benefits provided by Pell Grants or under the G.I. Bill, the Americorps Education Award provides recipients with additional educational opportunities. However, unlike Pell Grants or the G.I. Bill, the Americorps Education Award is currently taxed. LB477 would change that, making sure that the folks who work tirelessly to better Nebraska are awarded in full for their service.

On Tuesday I introduced LB 550 to the Transportation Committee. LB 550 seeks to lower and eliminate some taxes and fees on wireless and prepaid wireless services. These taxes are regressive and unfairly impact consumers, resulting in Nebraska having the fourth highest state and local taxes in the country at 25.5%.

Next week I will introduce LB 51, a bill that allows Tesla to sell their vehicles in Nebraska for the first time. LB51 upholds free market principles and consumer choice by opening up the state to a brand new market that is both innovative and promotes clean energy. It has been a pleasure getting to know current and prospective Tesla owners across the state who are enthusiastic about the possibility of Nebraska moving further into the 21st century marketplace.

As always, please feel free to reach out to me at tvargas@leg.ne.gov or call my office at (402) 471-2721.

In my two years in the Legislature, I have experienced how important it is to bring different perspectives to the table. Only through understanding the diverse array of viewpoints in our state can we, as legislators, attempt to solve problems that face all Nebraskans. Though we have made strides in recent years, our legislature still lacks much-needed diversity. One thing that makes it difficult for everyday people to serve in our citizen legislature is a constitutional barrier that sets senators’ salaries at $12,000 per year. This is why I introduced LR12CA, a resolution that would allow voters to amend our state constitution and raise the salaries of legislators to 50% of the median household income of Nebraska residents.

A 2017 survey done by the National Conference of State Legislatures found the average pay for state legislators to be $35,592 excluding per-diem and expense payments. 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.

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.

Under LR12CA, legislator salaries would be adjusted every two years, at the beginning of each biennium. I felt it was important to set salaries this way so our salaries are responsive to Nebraska workers’ salaries. If their median income goes down, there is no reason our pay should stay higher. LR12CA’s method to determine legislator pay every two years has been tested in several states including Massachusetts and Pennsylvania. It’s an effective way to increase pay with respect to inflation and cost-of-living.

I am grateful that there is a bipartisan coalition of Senators who have co-sponsored this measure with me. These Senators represent a diverse coalition of political ideologies who together understand the necessity to make elected office more accessible for everyday Nebraskans. It is my hope that this measure will be adopted and put to the people of Nebraska for a vote.

Food Trucks!
January 31st, 2019

It is tough to find a better place in Nebraska to chow down than Downtown and South Omaha. Our district is home to a diverse array of dining options, representing the vibrant, multicultural community that we are. However, that diversity is not just present in the variety of foods, but also, in the dining experience. While our brick-and-mortar restaurants are some of the best in the state, we are also the home to some of the best food trucks in Nebraska. Unfortunately, today local municipalities and our state government have placed a patchwork of regulations on food trucks, making it difficult and costly for owners and operators to navigate and comply. This is why I introduced LB 732, a bill that my colleague Senator Carol Blood from Bellevue has cosponsored, that standardizes and streamlines permitting and inspections processes, encourages entrepreneurship, and maintains dining choices for consumers.

 

LB732 was created in partnership with the Omaha Food Truck Association, a group of local food trucks dedicated to serving Omahans a wide variety of cuisines from around the globe. I am grateful for their cooperation in creating common-sense legislation that maintains public safety and public health while bringing Nebraska up-to-speed with the rest of the nation.

 

Today, food trucks looking to operate in Omaha face different regulations and costs to do business than those that operate in Lincoln or Bellevue. The same food truck often operates in multiple cities, so these differences greatly impact their ability to conduct business and remain profitable. For instance, a permit to operate in Lincoln or Bellevue can be hundreds of dollars more expensive in Omaha. This can be too big of a hurdle for small business owners looking to get their feet off of the ground. This legislation will standardize the permitting process, setting the maximum fee that municipalities can charge at $75, in addition to a maximum of $40 health and safety inspection fee.

 

For consumers across the state, LB732 increases your opportunities to enjoy the food trucks that frequent Downtown and South Omaha. For example, this legislation ensures a city cannot place restrictions on hours of operation that are different than constraints on brick-and-mortar restaurants. In other words, a city cannot mandate that food trucks close at 2:30am, or what would otherwise be some of their peak business hours, leaving willing consumers without many options for some late-night grub. Additionally, LB732 grants food trucks the freedom to operate on public and private property, just like any other small business would have the authority to do.

 

It’s important to me that cities maintain some autonomy and aren’t completely constrained by regulations handed down by the state legislature. There are several provisions in LB732 that allow local governments to regulate food trucks to the extent that they would any other operating business. It is important that as the food truck industry continues to blossom, we do not limit its opportunities within our state.

 

All in all, it is my belief that food trucks all over the state will benefit when we streamline regulations and level the playing field for all operators. I am so excited for the opportunity to expand the vibrant dining scene in our district and across the state, with both brick-and-mortar restaurants and mobile businesses like food trucks.

Sen. Tony Vargas

District 7
Room #1000
P.O. Box 94604
Lincoln, NE 68509
Phone: (402) 471-2721
Email: tvargas@leg.ne.gov
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