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Are you interested in stronger voting access for Arkansans? Safe housing standards? Compassionate reforms for immigrant communities? Equitable tax policies for workers? How about criminal justice reform and quality public education? What would you like to see the Arkansas State Legislature accomplish in 2021?

If you have a vision for a better Arkansas, then now is the time to share it with your state legislators.

The Arkansas Senate and House session convened on Monday. Your senators and representatives are already filing bills and hearing from fellow citizens and lobbyists on issues important to them. Now is the time to make your voice heard!

Because our state legislators represent far fewer constituents than our U.S. senators or congressmen do, they are much more accessible. They don't have a staff of office gatekeepers. Individual voter opinions carry a great deal of weight at the state legislative level because you're only one of a handful of citizens contacting them on a given issue.

What's more, because state legislators don't have staff, they don't have the time or resources to become experts on a multitude of issues. You can be their expert! Consider this: Some 2,000 bills will likely be filed this legislative session. So for example, if you know a particular bill will help grow Arkansas jobs, or increase equity in our state, or strengthen the way our democracy works, then call your rep about it now. Drawing on local knowledge and expertise will help legislators create more practical and effective solutions tailored for our communities.

Keep in mind that most government progress happens incrementally. If you feel like your community or group has long been ignored by the powers that be in government, contacting your Arkansas reps during the 2021 session won't immediately solve a long history of problems. However, advocating for very specific, small changes during this session are stepping stones toward bigger goals that help people gain more control over their lives and their communities. One small step empowers us to press forward.

And that is needed following the tumultuous year that was 2020. Let's start 2021 by exercising our role as citizens and rebuilding trust in governance. We do that by communicating with each other, listening, identifying common goals, and working together to achieve them so that our communities benefit.

To make an impact, make sure you know who your state senator and representative are. Look them up at arkansashouse.org and senate.arkansas.gov. Second, know which committees they serve on. You'll hear news like, "SB411 will be heard in the Senate Education Committee today." Find out if your senator sits on the Senate Ed Committee, and if so, call or email them with your message on how the bill will impact their constituents.

If a bill is passed out of committee in one chamber, then it may go to a full floor vote. This is another chance to contact your senator on how you need them to vote. Then, if the full Senate passes the bill, the legislation is referred to the appropriate committee on the House side. And the process starts over.

A directory of the 2021 Arkansas Legislative Committee will be published soon by Citizens First Congress at www.citizensfirst.org/legislature. It'll include legislators' contact information, as well as their assigned committees. We recommend contacting your reps via phone, text, or email. Many legislators also check social media frequently during the session. So you might tag them with a factual post giving information about the issue that's before them, and expressing how you'd like them to vote.

You can also sign up for alerts on actions needed to support social justice and civil rights-related bills at www.indivisiblelrca.org/2021arleg. Links to directories and updates from community advocates will be available there as well.

Because of the current pandemic, be aware that the session will operate differently from previous years. For example, it will be harder to testify for or against legislation in person because of necessary social distancing measures. You can check the hearing schedules, and sign up to testify at www.arkleg.state.ar.us. For those who can't be there in person, the House has already posted a "Watch Live" page: www.arkansashouse.org/watch-live. And because committee hearings will be spread out, be prepared for the session to last longer, perhaps into May or even June.

Contact your state representative and your state senator. Give them fact-based information. Share your personal story. Offer expertise. Have your voice heard. Sway votes.

Help your legislators accomplish good things for Arkansans in 2021. To do their jobs well, they need you.

--ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“vā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“ā€“--

Kymara Seals is policy director for the Arkansas Public Policy Panel. Loriee Evans is an organizer for Indivisible Little Rock and Central Arkansas.

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