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Senator discusses Morgan resolution, redistricting, state gas tax suspension
Sen. Billy Hickman
Sen. Billy Hickman speaks during Thursday’s Rotary Club of Effingham County meeting before presenting a Senate resolution passed in honor of Clarence Morgan to Morgan’s widow, Pam. - photo by Mark Lastinger/staff

RINCON — State Sen. Billy Hickman packed a lot of information into his brief presentation to the Rotary Club of Effingham County on Thursday. 

Hickman started his talk at The Herald Center by honoring Clarence Morgan, the longtime director of the Effingham County Parks and Recreation Department. The District 4 senator read a proclamation about Morgan that was passed by the Georgia Senate in April.

Morgan died Jan. 5 at the age of 75, having served as a teacher and coach in Effingham County for more than 50 years.

“It is a great honor that we have in the Senate and House to recognize people who have honored our communities, have lived in our communities and done great jobs for our communities,” Hickman said. “I was very fortunate, like many of you, to know Mr. Clarence Morgan and what a great job Clarence did for our recreation department in Effingham County. Not only did he do it for the recreation department, but for all the people that he touched, all the people that he touched, all the people that he led and all the non-strangers that he met, and so forth and so on.”

Hickman presented the resolution to Morgan’s widow, Pam, who dabbed her eyes as it was read. The document referred to her husband as “one of the State of Georgia’s most distinguished citizens.” It also said, “he made this world a better place in which to live,” frequently mentioning his generosity and friendliness.

After the presentation, Hickman attacked the topic of redistricting. South Georgia lost 200,000 people over the past decade, he said.

“We lost a full Senate District and three House seats,” Hickman said. “What does that mean? We lost three votes.

“If you keep that trend going the next ten years, we will lost another Senate seat and three House seats. You see how important it is for us to recruit industry and have industry come into our area.”

Hickman said the loss of additional legislative clout will adversely impact South Georgia. More than 6 million of the state’s 11 million people live in 29 metro Atlanta counties.

“I shouldn’t say this but I will say this,” he said. “There are lot of those people’s values that are not the same values that we’ve got — their spiritual values, their caring-about-other-people values. Evidence about that is a bill that we passed to not allow boys to participate in girls sports.

“You would have thought that would have been a slam-dunk situation. You would have thought that would not have been controversial. You would have thought everybody would have said, ‘Yeah. That’s true.’ But (the vote) was right down party lines.”

The bill passed, meaning athletes will have to compete against the gender that is listed on their birth certificate.

Hickman briefly broached the subject of turnover in the state employee system

“We’ve got some departments, particularly the prison and juvenile detention center, where it’s more than ninety percent per year,” he said.

Hickman is hopeful that a boost in pay will remedy the situation.

“We need to give (employees) a career instead of jobs,” he said.

Hickman also mentioned a teacher shortage.

“We have more people getting out of teaching through retirement and just quitting than we are getting in teachers,” he said.

Hickman predicted that Gov. Brian Kemp will extend the suspension of the state’s gas tax what is set to end May 31. The move reduced the cost of a gallon of gas by about 29 cents.

“... That’s $150 million a month in (state) revenue that is not being gotten because the tax has been suspended,” Hickman said. “More than likely, it is going to be extended again.”

The state House and Senate voted to suspend the tax in March. The measure they approved gives Kemp the power to extend it by executive order.

“That’s a big deal,” Hickman said.

Lastly, Hickman told Rotarians to be on the lookout for a state tax refund. Some in the club already received theirs.

In March, Kemp signed a bill to give refunds of $250-$500 to people who filed tax returns for 2020 and 2021. The measure totals $1.1 billion.