First-term state Sen. Ben Gilmore (R-Crossett) has hit the ground running during the 2021 regular legislative session, serving as a co-sponsor on nine bills and primary sponsor on two bills. One of the bills – Senate Bill 153 – that he is sponsoring is aimed at boosting Arkansas’ workforce.
Senate Bill 153, which is co-sponsored by Rep. David Ray (R-Maumelle), would create the Workforce Expansion Act of 2021, waiving initial filing fees, permit fees and licensing fees “associated with the formation of a business” in Arkansas for certain applicants. Individuals applying for licenses will have initial fees waived if the applicant has a household income not exceeding 200 percent of the federal poverty income guidelines.
According to the Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation, the 2021 federal poverty guidelines are $12,880 for a household of one; $17,420 for a household of two; $21,960 for a household of three; $26,500 for a household of four; $31,040 for a household of five; $35,580 for a household of six; $40,120 for a household of seven; and $44,660 for a household of eight.
In the bill, the authors argue that entrepreneurs and workers starting a business “should not have to pay the state to earn a living.” Waiving these fees, according to Gilmore and Ray, would increase access to professional and vocational licenses for lower-income individuals.
If SB 153 passes into law, Gilmore hopes that more people in Arkansas will take advantage of the fee waivers to move out of poverty. The net result, he said, would be to boost the state’s economy. “Removing an initial fee required to enter a vocation is just one of many barriers to help us be more competitive and grow our economy in Arkansas,” Gilmore told Arkansas Money & Politics.
While the COVID-19 pandemic resulted in significant unemployment throughout the state, Gilmore said that this fee waiver would not be just a short-term panacea. He sees the Workforce Expansion of 2021 as a longer-term solution to increase access and reduce barriers for employment. “Obviously, the pandemic has had adverse impacts on many, especially low income families, but we should always be looking at ways to reduce barriers into vocations and help people move up the ladder of employment,” he said.
The Workforce Expansion Act will go into effect Jan. 1, 2022 if passed by the state legislature and signed into law.