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Senator Billy Hickman: Week Twelve Under the Gold Dome

Senator Billy Hickman provides a legislative update for week 12 under the gold dome.
Sen. Billy Hickman (R–Statesboro).

The 2024 Legislative Session has officially wrapped up, and from the get-go, Senate Republicans set ambitious goals for the session—to expand economic opportunities, fostering an educated workforce, and enhancing community safety, all aimed at ensuring the well-being of Georgians. I couldn't be prouder of our accomplishments this session.

We wasted no time in tackling a range of legislative priorities, from tax relief to education, workforce development, and public safety. The Georgia Senate successfully provided $2 billion in tax relief for state-income taxpayers and homeowners through SB 349, putting money directly back into the pockets of hardworking Georgians. Additionally, SB 426, our tort reform legislation, safeguards Georgia businesses and curbs frivolous lawsuits that drive up insurance costs and hinder economic growth. We also took significant action by unanimously supporting Sen. Greg Dolezal’s SB 233, which offers school choice to students stuck in underperforming public schools. Furthermore, we worked diligently to streamline regulations, passing several workforce development measures to expedite employment for various professionals and military spouses. And we didn't stop there—we took a strong stance against gangs, violent criminals and rogue prosecutors with legislation like the “Safeguarding Adopted Children from Sexual Violence Act” and the “Combating Organized Retail Crime Act,” as well as various bills addressing illegal immigration.

Additionally, education and workforce development legislation that I have sponsored and passed this session include:

  • SB 497 – This bill redesignates the High-demand Career Initiatives Program as the High-Demand Apprenticeship Program, adjusts contract awards, and establishes the Public Service Apprenticeship Program to promote registered apprenticeships. This bill not only expands and promotes the creation of apprenticeship programs in the state but further ensures the successful completion of education and training for individuals seeking to enter the workforce. 
  • SB 384 – This bill provides for the development and administration of the State of Georgia as a Model Employer (GAME) Program. The Model Employer (GAME) Program focuses on the recruitment, hiring, advancement, and retention of qualified individuals with disabilities at all levels and for all occupations within state agencies. 
  • SR 470 – This resolution creates a Senate Study Committee on the Preservation of Georgia’s Farmland. This measure is of great importance, as agriculture is our states’ number one industry. Through this study committee, I seek to address and further discuss economic pressures and other issues plaguing Georgia’s farmers.

Our commitment to Georgia's future was evident this week, with the passage of several crucial bills. Most notably, we came together with the House to approve the state FY 2025 budget, ensuring essential funding for education, law enforcement, and mental health programs. Crafting this $36 billion budget was no small feat, but it reflects Georgia's steadfast fiscal conservatism amidst federal spending recklessness. This budget prioritizes our children, allocating significant funds for literacy programs, pupil transportation, and school security grants. After all, our children are the future of Georgia, and they deserve nothing but the best from this body.

In addition to passing the budget, Senate Republicans passed legislation protecting vulnerable minors, Georgia elections, law enforcement vehicles, firearms carriers and motorists. House Bill 993 would create the felony offense of grooming a minor punishable by one to five years in prison. It also protects against the sexual exploitation of minors using digitally altered material. House Bill 500 would create the offense of arson of a law enforcement vehicle. Each of these pieces of legislation serves a significant purpose in protecting Georgians every day, and I was proud to support them in the Senate chamber.

I am also proud to announce the passage of additional legislative priorities which I have either authored or carried, through both the House and Senate chambers. Specifically, I am pleased to report that HB 970 passed unanimously through the Senate this week. This bill provides that victims of human trafficking are eligible for the Realizing Educational Achievement Can Happen (REACH) Scholarship. This bill also revises the number of REACH Scholars participating school systems are able to designate and revises funding procedures for the scholarship. I now eagerly await this bill’s signage into law by the Governor in the coming weeks.

In summary, this session was marked by significant achievements that will undoubtedly make Georgia stronger for generations to come. Thank you for your support and concern—it's because of you that we can continue to work towards a better future for our state. May God bless you and may God bless the great state of Georgia.

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Sen. Billy Hickman serves as Chairman of the Senate Committee on Higher Education. He represents the 4th Senate District which includes Bulloch, Candler, Effingham, Evans, and a small portion of Chatham County. He may be reached at 404.463.1371 or via email at [email protected]