In his first session in the Georgia Senate, Sen. Billy Hickman helped pass a $27.3 billion state budget and a big, controversial voting law. But in committee he voted against a bill to let college athletes receive pay.
Now he expects to be called back to Atlanta before the first calendar year of his term is out for a special session where results of the 2020 U.S. Census will be applied to redrawing the state’s legislative districts as well as districts for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Speaking to the Kiwanis Club of Statesboro on Thursday, Hickman, R-Statesboro, recapped the 2020 regular session and said that southern Georgia probably would lose one Senate seat during the redistricting session.
After saying that he ran on a promise of using his “experience and conservative values to put the good, hard-working folks of our district first, ahead of Atlanta,” he suggested that the interests of the metro area are fundamentally different.
“They’re a different crowd of people than we are, and I’m really concerned with the redistricting that we may lose a seat in South Georgia,” Hickman said. “Our district … the 4th Senatorial District, made up of six counties, I feel pretty good about, because we’ve got two growing counties, Bulloch County and Effingham County, both of them are growing.”
The other counties – Candler, Evans, Tattnall and Emanuel – may have remained “pretty stagnant” in population, he said, but at least none is expected to have lost much.
“So I feel like our redistricting is going to be pretty good for us,” he said.
In a follow-up interview, Hickman said he has heard that one of the 56 Senate districts is expected to be shifted from the southern to the northern part of the state but that the significant population loss has occurred in southwestern, not southeastern, Georgia. Each district must have roughly the same population, so densely populated areas get more districts.
The U.S. Census Bureau released national and state-level results of the 2020 decennial census in April and “Vintage 2020” county and city-level population estimates in May. But the final, detailed results used for state and local redistricting aren’t slated for delivery until later this summer. Hickman said he has heard that the special session may occur as late as October or November, but he noted that the redistricting committees are holding some public hearings this summer.
‘No budget cuts’
Reviewing highlights of the regular session, he referred to the General Assembly’s passage of a $48 billion to $49 billion budget. But this included about $22 billion in flow-through federal money as well as the more than $27 billion in budgeted state revenues, he noted. While some other state governments were enacting austerity measures because of the COVID-19 pandemic, Georgia needed none, he said.
“In the state of Georgia we had no budget cuts, no furloughs, no layoffs (of state employees), and it’s because we have a governor – and I’m not going to talk much about him – but we have a governor who wanted to keep our state open, and it has proved to be true,” Hickman said.
He noted that he was one of the sponsors of Senate Bill 202, which makes a long list of changes in state voting rules and procedures. Democrats and some national corporations have assailed Georgia’s new law, and voting laws passed this year by several other Republican-controlled state governments, as a reaction to Democratic victories and support for former President Donald Trump’s false claims of election irregularities.
Hickman did not describe the bill in detail at the civic club meeting. But he referred to efforts of some companies to punish the state and certain Republican lawmakers as “economic terrorism” and asserted that most people have not read the 98-page legislation.
“This bill is not what the far right wanted – OK? – because the far right didn’t want any absentee voting; it’s not what the far left wanted, because the far left wanted everybody to have the opportunity to vote; but it’s what would stand up in court, and we felt like it would stand up in court,” he said. “It’s a very fair bill.”
Hickman said he was the only committee member of the Senate Higher Education Committee to vote against sending forward a bill to allow pay for collegiate athletes in certain situations.
“We had a bill where they wanted to pay college athletes and I voted against that bill. …,” he said, and added that the motivation to pass it appeared to be that Florida had already done so. He referred by first name to some individuals he had consulted.
“Well, our consensus was that we felt like that if there’s a payment of athletes it needs to come from the NCAA and it needs to be uniform throughout the whole United States,” Hickman said.
This was House Bill 617, which ultimately passed, was signed by Gov. Brian Kemp and takes effect July 1, allowing college and university athletes to receive proceeds from the marketing of their names, images or likenesses. Briefly away from the Capitol because of the death of his mother-in-law, Hickman did not take part in the final March 31 Senate floor votes on this bill and was counted as excused.
As he noted in his remarks, constituents can see how their state senators and representatives voted on specific bills through the Georgia General Assembly website at www.legis.ga.gov/legislation.