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Sen. Tony Vargas

Omaha Sen. Tony Vargas listens to discussion on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.

Sen. Tony Vargas of Omaha said Wednesday his proposed constitutional amendment to increase the salary of state senators to one-half of Nebraska's median household income would help fulfill the state's goal of creating a citizen legislature.

The current $12,000 per year salary "prevents many Nebraskans from participating in state government," Vargas told the Legislature's executive board.

His proposal (LR295CA) would be submitted to a vote of the people in the November general election if it clears the Legislature with at least 30 votes.

Nebraska's median household income in 2016 was $56,927, so the change would boost a senator's salary to approximately $28,000 if it was in effect now.

Under the Vargas plan, the legislative salary would be adjusted every two years to reflect increases or decreases in median family income.

Senators also receive per diem or mileage payments to help cover expenses associated with performing their legislative duties.

The average pay for state senators nationally is $35,000, Vargas said.

A salary more tailored to the responsibilities of the office would "allow a broader range of citizens" to consider a bid for a seat in the Legislature and thereby "recruit public servants" from all income levels, he said.

John Hansen, president of the Nebraska Farmers Union, told the committee that the current salary prevents too many Nebraskans from serving in the Legislature.

"Many qualified, competent, independent, smart folks cannot afford to serve in this position," he said.

No one spoke in opposition to the proposal at Wednesday's public hearing. 

Reach the writer at 402-473-7248 or dwalton@journalstar.com.

On Twitter @LJSDon.

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Political reporter

Don Walton, a Husker and Yankee fan, is a longtime Journal Star political and government reporter.

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