For The Record
Listen up: New wave of Georgia lawmakers accents state’s shifting demographics
From top left, Rep. Ruwa Romman, Senate Minority Leader Gloria Butler, House Speaker Pro Tem Jan Jones, Speaker Jon Burns, Rep. Long Tran, Sen. Jason Esteves, Rep. Esther Panitch, Rep. Tyler Paul Smith and Rep. Pedro Marin. Ross Williams/Georgia Recorder, Jill Nolin, Georgia Recorder
In the last decade, Georgia’s population has grown more diverse, especially as the state welcomes an increasing number of immigrants and refugees. As a result, much of the work taking place at the Capitol is beginning to reflect the state’s changing demographics – and accents.
At least 83 non-white members participated in the 2023 legislative session, a quickly evolving change from the General Assembly’s long history as a power center run by white men.
A more diverse Georgia Legislature means there are now at least seven members from the Asian American and Pacific Islander community, two members from the Afro-Latino community, along with four Muslim members and one Jewish representative.
Eighty-one women were sworn in this session, a seismic change from the not-long-ago days when they’d be hard-pressed to find a restroom dedicated to them. And the new stature women legislators have in this state was evidenced at the opening gavel when Rep. Jan Jones, a Milton Republican, became the first woman to serve as House speaker, before she handed off the gavel to Newington Republican Rep. Jon Burns.
This year marked the start of the first Asian American, Pacific Islander caucus and the renewal of the Legislature’s Hispanic caucus.
As the session kicked-off, many anticipated how much would be accomplished by the 53 new legislators that were sworn into office this year. And though many of the freshmen took this session to get acquainted with their new roles, a few made strides in passing legislation in their first term.
That includes freshman Rep. Esther Panitch, a Sandy Springs Democrat, who co-sponsored House Bill 30 that defines antisemitism in the state code according to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s definition. Panitch defended the bill in a fiery debate on Crossover Day, helping to get the bill passed with a 136-to-22 vote. The bill passed soon after someone left antisemitic flyers in driveways of Georgia neighborhoods with concentrations of Jewish residents.
Another newcomer, Sen. Jason Esteves, an Atlanta Democrat, authored Senate Bill 199 that establishes a flexible benefit plan for state and public school employees, and it also passed on Crossover Day with a majority vote.
But in the last stretch of the session there is still much this diverse assembly has left to accomplish, before declaring Sine Die on March 29. Sine Die is Latin, of course, for “without a day” and is the moment lawmakers adjourn and head home with no definite day to resume.
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