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The 107th session of the Nebraska Legislature is in full swing, and while this year’s session is markedly different from past years with our interpersonal interaction limited due to the Coronavirus, we remain committed to addressing the most pressing issues that affect Nebraskans every day.
On Friday, April 9th we approved Nebraska’s state budget for the next two years. Budgets aren’t about numbers on a spreadsheet. Budgets are about values, priorities, and people. In a Unicameral legislature, like the one we have here in Nebraska, we must work together to accomplish our goals. This is my fifth year serving on the Appropriations Committee, so I know how arduous the process can be to put together a budget. State agencies started working on their budget requests ten months ago. The Governor and his staff worked carefully with the Committee for form his own Budget recommendations. We sought input from interested stakeholders and from the public. More than forty bills drafted by myself and my colleagues were incorporated into a package hundreds of pages long. Between 49 State Senators, the Governor’s staff, the agency heads and the public, we worked with hundreds of people to craft this legislation. In today’s hyper-partisan environment, it would have been easy to fail. It would have been easy to refuse compromises, get frustrated, and walk away. But we do things differently in Nebraska, we work together.
Our budget was built using four pillars to support Nebraska for the next two years: ensuring more, better paying jobs; job training to give workers the skills they need to get those new jobs and keep them; making sure that every Nebraskan can live a healthy lifestyle; and finally, guaranteeing that our economy is one where hard workers reap the benefits.
With this year’s budget, we will be providing funding for the Business Innovation Act. Since this legislation first passed in 2012, independent analysts have found the program to be a success. Across 217 participating businesses, there were over 1,100 direct jobs created because of the Business Innovation Act. Even more importantly, the average wage of those jobs created has steadily increased. In 2014, these jobs were paying on average just over $50,000 per year. By 2020, the average wage had increased to over $67,000 per year. That is substantially higher that the statewide mean wage of $47,000 dollars. This success is a result of investment in Nebraska innovation designed to grow Nebraska from the inside-out. We don’t know if there’s an upper limit to the effectiveness of this program – some amount of funding we can hit where we will find diminishing returns. What I can tell you that we’ll never find that limit if we don’t reach for it and push against it, and successful programs deserve additional funding to grow that success.
We’re also funding the Job Training Cash Fund. We created this fund last year when we passed the Customized Job Training Act, though we deferred funding it until this year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The appropriation to this fund will help prepare Nebraska’s workforce for the challenges of our new national economy by creating grants to pay for internships and job training at firms that use the funds to either create new jobs, or to enhance the earning potential of existing jobs. Jobs created through these internships and job training grants will be strengthened, and the workers will have better earning potential, with this funding in place. By funding the program, we will actualize the main goal of the Customized Job Training Act: creating newer, higher paying jobs for Nebraskans. This is exactly the kind of commitment to our workforce that we ought to be making. We don’t want new economy jobs moving overseas. We want to keep those jobs and the people who work them right here.
We’re also expanding our funding of Nebraska’s eighteen Public Health Departments. A year ago, many of us didn’t know much about the role of our Public Health Departments. What we’ve found is that these departments were stretched thin even before the Coronavirus pandemic struck, and the pandemic didn’t help the situation. Earlier this year, I introduced LB585 to appropriate $5 million total to improve our public health infrastructure. The first $3 million would be distributed evenly across all eighteen Public Health Departments, and the final $2 million will be distributed based on the population density. These kinds of proactive investments in our public health infrastructure will help us address future public health crises. If we wait to make these kinds of investments until we’re reacting to a problem, then its already too late. The coronavirus pandemic will be a touchstone in all our lives because of the disruption it caused. But it is not the only public health crisis we’ve faced as a state or as a nation during most of our lifetimes, and it won’t be the last. From the bird flu to the Opioid epidemic, HIV/AIDS and asbestos exposure, funding our public health departments will not only ensure a quicker reaction to the next public health crisis, it will also encourage better health decisions among the public because of the programs these public health departments can promote.
These are all important priorities that will help us meet our obligations to Nebraskans today and in the future. We approached this budget in a balanced, bipartisan, and responsible way. Nebraskans have made it clear over and over again that they want their elected leaders to approach policy this way. Over the last five years, I’ve seen the highs and lows of the Nebraska Legislature. It’s not always easy, but I have never been more optimistic about Nebraska’s future. We are a strong and resilient people, and I know we are united in our desire to face the greatest challenges facing our society. When we work together, there’s no limit to what we can achieve.
I hope you began the new year with the same renewed hope, good health, and happiness that my family and I did. Lauren and I were thrilled to welcome our second child, Luca Anthony Vargas, on New Years Eve. As many of you know, I lost my father to COVID-19 last Spring, and Luca was given the middle name “Anthony” in his honor. Lauren and I are so thankful for your support and love, especially over the past year, and could not be more excited and blessed to raise our children in this generous community.
We began the 107th Legislature on January 7th and I was sworn in to begin my second term as your senator with an oath to uphold my commitment to serving you to the best of my ability. I was honored to be re-elected by my peers to serve as Vice Chair of the Executive Board, a role that will require the continuation of the bipartisan, consensus-forming approach that I have taken during my first four years in office.
This session I introduced 26 bills to help strengthen and protect our state and community. These bills will:
Improve public health
Honor our veterans
Strengthen our education system
Strengthen our economy and workforce
Support equity and diversity
You can find more information about each of these bills on my legislative website: news.legislature.ne.gov/dist07/
Every day I am honored to represent District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature. As always, please feel free to reach out to me at (402) 471-2721, email@example.com, or on any of my social media accounts. My Legislative Aide, Meg Mandy, Administrative Aide, Cristina Prentice, and all of our interns are willing and excited to help.
The 2020 session has adjourned sine die!
Over the last 3 weeks, my colleagues and I returned to our State Capitol to finish the remaining 17 days of the session.
During this biennium session, I passed 18 bills:
LB 292 – Appropriates $500,000 in each year of the biennium to the Department of Education for the reinstatement of the Nebraska Information Technology Initiative under the Center for Student Leadership and Expanded Learning Act;
LB 478 – Prohibits evidence of a minor’s consent in any civil proceeding involving certain alleged sex offenses;
LB 477 + 477 (A) – Provide an income tax exemption for Segal AmeriCorps Education Awards;
LB 515 – Protects all students’ constitutional right to due process and fundamental fairness;
LB 678 – Adopts the Alternative Certification for Quality Teachers Act;
LB 694 – Change matching fund requirements under the Nebraska Affordable Housing Act;
LB 713 – Provide for long-term analyses from the Legislative Fiscal Analyst;
LB 737 – Change requirements for an annual status report relating to the Affordable Housing Trust Fund;
LB 739 – Change procedures and requirements for use of restrictive housing of inmates;
LB 1018 – (Amended into LB 1008) Appropriates $6.5 million of general funds to local public health departments;
LB 1019 – (Amended into LB 1008) Appropriates $3 million of general funds to federally qualified health centers
around the state;
LB 1050 – (Amended into LB 1008) Appropriates additional funds to the Coordinating Commission for Postsecondary Education for the Nebraska Opportunity Grant Program;
LB 1089 – Require all high school students to complete and submit a FAFSA;
LB 1147 (Amended into LB 1188) – moves the administration, maintenance, and operations of any building where a juvenile committed to the Office of Juvenile Services for placement at a youth rehabilitation and treatment center resides away from the Department of Administrative Services and back to the Department of Health and Human Services;
LB 1148 – Protect children by providing legislative and judicial oversight of youth committed to Youth Rehabilitation Treatment Centers;
LB 1149 (Amended into LB 1188) – improve programming and quality of care for youth committed to the Office of Juvenile Services;
LB 1155 (Amended into LB 866) – Adopt the Middle Income Workforce Housing Investment Act and transfer funds from the General Fund;
LB 1210 (Amended into LB 881) – Create the offense of sexual exploitation of a student.
Engaging with constituents and community leaders is by far my favorite duty as a Senator. Even though I have only been able to be in touch with my constituents virtually over the last few months, I am so glad that we have been able to stay connected. Your position and insight on legislation has been and will continue to be invaluable.
Though we have adjourned, my work as your senator continues. Throughout the spread of COVID-19, I have assisted countless Nebraskans in filing and receiving their unemployment and applying for small business loans. If you are still experiencing delays or issues filing for unemployment, please feel free to contact my office.
I also introduced a number of interim studies that will help guide my research and preparation for the next legislative session. If you are interested in contributing to any of them please reach out to let me know. You can find them listed here https://www.nebraskalegislature.gov/bills/search_by_introducer.php?Introducer=144
I am honored to represent District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature. Coming home to District 7 every night to my family is the greatest privilege of my life. As my wife Lauren and I raise our daughter, Ava, and prepare to welcome our son into the world early next year, I could not be more proud to raise them in District 7.
As always, please feel free to reach out to me or my office at 402.471.2721, firstname.lastname@example.org, or any social media. My Legislative Aide, Meg Mandy, and Administrative Aide, Cristina Prentice are also willing and eager to help.
Senator Tony Vargas
Nebraska Legislature, District 7
Facebook: @TonyVargasNE; Twitter: @TonyVargas;Instagram: @tonyvargasne
Yesterday, 3 of my juvenile justice bills moved to Final Reading as part of a package of bills.
In January, the Heath and Human Services committee released a report with 14 recommendations for how the Legislature could help stabilize the State Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers, or YRTCs. 11 bills were then introduced that created more complete oversight of the YRTCs, 3 of which were bills I proudly sponsored. These 11 bills were then combined into 4 main bills. Yesterday morning, these four bills, LB 1140, LB 1144, LB 1188, and LB 1148, were all moved to the final stage of legislative debate. It was an honor to collaborate with Senator Howard, members of the Heath and Human Services Committee, Senator Lathrop, members of the Judiciary Committee, and stakeholders and advocates in our communities to create meaningful change, provide support, and add critical and necessary oversight.
Tomorrow, my colleagues and I will return to Lincoln to finish the remainder of the session. While this year has been extremely challenging for me and my family, my promise to fight for a fair, just, prosperous Nebraska is stronger than ever. Things will inevitably be different at the State Capitol building, but my commitment to my community is unwavering.
My bill, LB1148, is up tomorrow, which is part of a package of legislation related to juvenile justice and reforms our Youth Rehabilitation and Treatment Centers (YRTC). I will also continue to work towards getting my priority bill, LB 1089, to the floor for debate, which would require all high school students to complete the FAFSA. I have a few other bills that I’ll be focusing on as well – stay tuned for more info on those.
Every day I am honored to represent District 7 in the Nebraska Legislature. I could not be more proud to work for a community that values inclusivity, strength, and diversity. 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. My staff and I are willing and eager to help.
June 18, 2020
The Honorable Pete Ricketts
Governor of the State of Nebraska
State Capitol, Room 2316
Lincoln, NE 68509
Nebraskans working in meatpacking plants are among the hardest hit population groups in Nebraska and are the backbone of our economy and food security. Without significant protections, horrific outbreaks across the state threaten the lives and livelihood of many hardworking Nebraskans and their families. Earlier this month, 786 cases were reported at the Dakota City Tyson beef plant. We continue to see numbers of cases rising across the State.
Workers in the meat and poultry plants in Nebraska have faced difficult working conditions for many years. But COVID-19 represents a new and significant threat to the health and lives of workers in these plants. Right now workers need consistent, uniform, and enforceable protections that have yet to be put in place. Importantly, protecting worker health in the COVID-19 pandemic is also crucial to protecting community health.
Nebraska can, and should, do more to protect our critical food security infrastructure and the Nebraskans working hard every day to keep food on our tables. Preventative policies must be implemented to protect people from infection. The most important among these preventative policies would be (1) to institute six-foot distancing measures in plants that would increase physical space between workers on the line and throughout the facility, and (2) to institute transparency of information, contact tracing, and effective quarantine practices in these workplaces.
We ask that you specifically define and mandate a policy to protect Nebraskans working in meatpacking and poultry plants across the state. The current lack of policy and protections is endangering lives, including lives of family members of hard-working Nebraskans. We value our workforce in Nebraska and want to make sure everyone comes home from work healthy and alive.
Senator Tony Vargas
Senator Kate Bolz
Senator Carol Blood
Senator Tom Brandt
Senator Michaela Cavanaugh
Senator Ernie Chambers
Senator Sue Crawford
Senator Wendy DeBoer
Senator Myron Dorn
Senator Matt Hansen
Senator Megan Hunt
Senator Sara Howard
Senator Rick Kolowski
Senator Steve Lathrop
Senator Brett Lindstrom
Senator John McCollister
Senator Mike McDonnell
Senator Adam Morfeld
Senator Patty Pansing Brooks
Senator Dan Quick
Senator Lynn Walz
Senator Justin Wayne
Senator Matt Williams
Senator Anna Wishart
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.”
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