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LITTLE ROCK -- When the legislature convenes in regular session at noon on Monday, Jan. 11, the individuals in the Senate will bring a wide variety of real-world experience to the task.

Of the 35 members in the Senate, eight have run a business, three are in farming and four are attorneys. Two senators are in insurance and two senators are in banking or finance.

Four senators have a background in health care and three have experience in teaching or educational administration. Three senators are in construction or real estate development or both. One is an accountant, one is a pastor and one is in the technology industry.

Three senators work or have worked with economic development agencies.

One senator joined the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association and competed on the professional rodeo circuit as a professional bull rider for four years.

Three senators are veterans of the armed forces. One senator was the mayor of his home town and three served on the city council. Four served on their local school boards and three were elected to terms on the county quorum court. Of the 35 senators, 21 served previously in the House of Representatives.

Arkansas has a citizen legislature, which meets in odd-numbered years in a regular session that typically lasts about three months. In the most recent regular session the legislature considered 1,670 pieces of legislation and enacted 1,092.

In even-numbered years the legislature meets in fiscal session to approve spending levels for state agencies and appropriate funds for schools, colleges and universities. In the 2020 fiscal session, that required passage of 188 separate appropriation bills.

Generally, the experience that senators bring to the legislature influence their agendas. The most common example is that educators choose to serve on the Senate Education Committee and people in business serve on the Insurance and Commerce Committee, farmers choose to be on the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee and senators with a background in health care tend to choose assignments on the Public Health, Welfare and Labor Committee.

Attorneys often select a spot on the Judiciary Committee, which considers legislation that would change the state's criminal and civil code, as well as rules of courtroom procedure. The committee also considers legislation that affects the case loads of judges and prosecutors.

The Senate has seven women and three African-Americans. The party breakdown is 28 Republicans and seven Democrats.

Red Tape Reduction

A lot of legislative work carries on from one session to the next. For example, Act 600 of 2019 made it the duty of the legislature to regularly review licensing requirements for occupations that fall under government regulation.

Legislators are to seek the least restrictive form of licensing, while at the same time protecting consumers and the public.

A subcommittee has released its first list of recommended changes in licensing, in time for the legislature to consider during the 2021 session.

It recommended repeal of a law that requires sprinkler fitters to be licensed. Their businesses already must get a license, so the recommendation would eliminate duplication. For similar reasons it recommended repeal of licensing requirements for motor vehicle salesmen.

It also recommended repeal of the law requiring lime applicators to be licensed.

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Editor's note: Arkansas Sen. Cecile Bledsoe represents the third district. From Rogers, Sen. Bledsoe is chair of the Legislative Council.

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