AP NEWS

Senator minimum age, salary proposals unopposed

February 7, 2019

Reducing the age of eligibility to serve in the Nebraska Legislature from 21 to 19 would expand the pool of potential state senators and recognize “the recent wave of civic engagement by young people,” Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln said Wednesday.

Hansen told the Legislature’s executive board that his proposal (LR11CA) would engage young Nebraskans who already are “highly active in the political process.”

The proposed constitutional amendment, which would be submitted to Nebraska voters for their consideration in the 2020 general election, surprisingly attracted no testimony, either pro or con, at a noon-hour public hearing.

Meanwhile, Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha urged the board to consider his proposed constitutional amendment (LR12CA) to clear the path for voter consideration of the first increase in state senator salaries since 1989.

Vargas’ plan provides that salaries would be increased, and then adjusted every two years, to reflect one-half of Nebraska’s median income.

If the proposal was in effect today, the current salary of $12,000 a year would be raised to about $27,000, Vargas said.

Nebraska ranks far behind the average state legislative salary nationwide, he said, which amounts to about $35,000 a year.

The ideal of creating a citizen Legislature is hampered by the fact that “so many fellow Nebraskans are essentially precluded (from serving as senators) by the financial barrier,” he said.

The increased salary would “allow a broader range of citizens to consider running for office,” Vargas said. That would help assure the Legislature “reflects the interests, concerns and demographics of the state,” he said.

Under current salary limits and accompanying legislative time commitments, he noted, it requires “a tremendous sacrifice to be here.”

Sen. John McCollister of Omaha told Vargas he’ll support the proposal.

“It’s time to make it more possible for more people to serve in this body,” he said.

The proposal was supported by the Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce, the Lincoln Chamber of Commerce and the Nebraska Chamber of Commerce and Industry.