The Arkansas General Assembly convened Monday, Jan. 11, with two new legislators from Ashley County seated in their respective chambers.
Voters chose District 26 Sen. Ben Gilmore and District 9 Rep. Howard Beaty, both Republicans of Crossett, in the November general election. Both are serving in the Assembly for the first time.
Beaty, a banker by profession, has been assigned to the Revenue and Taxation Committee and City, County and Local Affairs Committee for his inaugural session.
“I am not going in with a preset agenda,” Beaty said. “I think revenue and taxation is going to be fairly active this session, and I think there will be quite a bit of legislation coming through that committee.”
The representative said the committee will likely focus on lower taxes and transparency.
Gilmore said he is also interested in what the state may do in terms of tax reform.
“We have got to be very aggressive to be competitive with other states,” Gilmore said.
Beaty said the revenue committee will also play a role in the legislature’s decisions as the state’s financial situation clarifies as Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act money runs out and assemblymen can calculate the state’s true revenue.
“Once (the 2020 fiscal year) is complete, we will have the actual numbers of the CARES Act money that poured into the state. In budgeting, you always try to take the extraordinary items out, so we’ll want to take those out and see how the state fared,” he said.
The local affairs committee is one that deals with grants and opportunities available at the county level.
“I have already heard from some folks from the municipal league, and then just some concerns and issues from other local elected officials that they may have on the local side,” Beaty said.
During his turn as a freshman senator, Gilmore has been assigned to the Public Health and Welfare Committee and the Agriculture, Forestry and Economic Development Committee.
His placement on the public health committee is a coveted one, Gilmore said.
“I was very fortunate to get on that with dealing with what we are dealing with concerning COVID, but with rural Arkansas, we have so many needs when it comes to public health and welfare,” he said.
“I think I can have a role in helping shape policy to help those in need. That is going to be a very busy committee to be on this session.”
Among things that will need to be considered in the long term is how the state can recruit physicians to the region and retain them, Gilmore said.
“If a physician is going to look at their options on pay and everything else, how do we entice them to southeastern Arkansas?” he said.
As part of his commitment to the public health committee, Gilmore has already co-sponsored with Rep. Justin Boyd a resolution expressing the extent to which the opioid crisis has affected the region.
“The opioid crisis that we are dealing with is a huge issue,” Gilmore said. “This resolution just kind of reiterates some of the facts that we already know about the crisis; it is just a way to bring more attention to that issue. Per capita, it is more of an issue in rural areas.”
The senator likewise said he was very glad to be placed on the agriculture and economic development committee.
“I think it is going to be beneficial for my district, which is heavily forested but in need of economic development,” he said.
During this term, the legislature will redraw district lines based on census data. Gilmore said one thing he hopes to see is districts that make more sense geographically.
“I would like to at least follow along county lines instead of chopping up piecemeal,” he said.
Beaty said as the legislative session approached, it would be an exciting experience.
“And I am excited to have the opportunity to participate in it,” he said.
Gilmore said that his former work with the lieutenant governor’s office gave him the benefit of having experience working in the senate chambers during previous sessions, but this session will be different.
“I am honored and thankful to the people for entrusting us with this opportunity,” he said.