- Associated Press - Friday, February 20, 2015

LINCOLN, Neb. (AP) - Eighteen-year-olds could serve as state legislators, governor or lieutenant governor under a resolution that will be debated on the floor of the Nebraska Legislature.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sen. Tyson Larson of O’Neill, told a legislative committee Friday that the measure, which would allow candidates who meet federal voting age to run for state office, is a “core First Amendment issue.”

Nebraska currently requires state senators to be at least 21 years old and the other officials to be at least 30. When Nebraska’s one-chamber legislature was founded in 1937, the voting age was 21. Larson says his resolution aligns the age requirement with the modern voting age, which changed to 18 in 1971.

Age of candidacy laws vary state by state, with candidates for senators in Texas required to be at least 26 and governors in Oklahoma required to be 31. A 21-year-old can run for governor in South Dakota but cannot be a candidate for state senator in Missouri. Vermont has no age requirements for its state offices.

Larson said he doesn’t believe Nebraskans will elect a teenager to take up residence in the governor’s mansion, but voters should be able to make that decision.

“To tell someone that they can’t because of their age I think is a direct violation, not only their first amendment rights, but it’s disrespecting the voters and their ability to choose who’s best for them,” he said.

Larson said there have only been five senators in Nebraska history under age of 25.

Sen. Matt Hansen of Lincoln, who turned 27 last week, is the youngest member of the Legislature. Hansen said he rarely notices age differences among senators, save the fact that some references that are historical for him are personal for others.

But Sen. Dave Bloomfield of Hoskins, 69, said he can spot senators’ age differences during floor debates. Bloomfield said maturity doesn’t happen magically at age 18, and there’s no need to make allowances for younger public officials.

There was no public testimony on the resolution, though Nebraskans for Civic Reform sent a letter in support. Immediately following the hearing, the eight-member committee advanced the measure to the full Legislature 7-1 with only Bloomfield in opposition.

Sen. Tommy Garrett of Bellevue, 60, said the resolution would, at the very least, stimulate the younger generation’s interest in state politics. But even supportive committee members doubted it would survive the floor of the Nebraska legislature, where senators range from 27 to 77 years old.

“I think it’s going to run into a buzzsaw upstairs,” said 34-year-old Omaha Sen. Beau McCoy.

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The resolution is LR26ca.


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