Representatives Matt Reeves, Rey Martinez, Scott Hilton, Derek McCollum and Soo Hong pose with Speaker Jon Burns on the first day of the 2023 legislative session. (Credit: Georgia House of Representatives)

How did Georgia General Assembly’s freshmen class of 2023 perform? Better than you might think.

Jul 18, 2023

A number of guaranteed worker protections became law, along with other significant legislation, this year thanks, in large part, to legislative newcomers such as state Rep. Matt Reeves, a Duluth lawyer, and state Sen. Rick Williams, a funeral home owner and former state representative.

The pair are among the largest freshman class in recent memory in the Georgia General Assembly, the nation’s third largest Legislature, which gained 57 new lawmakers this year. The newest group of senators and representatives introduced 165 pieces of legislation that had statewide impact; 27 of which became law. 

Anyone who assaults health care workers on the job now faces up to 20 years in prison. Georgia workers injured on the job can now expect larger worker’s compensation. And workers are also assured two hours off from work to early vote or vote in-person in upcoming primaries and elections. 

Reeves’ Safer Hospitals Act was signed into law May 2, less than 24 hours before a mass shooting occurred at a Northside Hospital facility in Midtown Atlanta where a gunman shot five people, killing one of the victims. In addition to stiff penalties, the law enables hospitals to create on-site police forces, similar to those on college campuses. All told, five of the 13 bills Reeves introduced that had statewide impact are now law, the most of any newcomer in the House. Reeves’ attributed those five new laws to “having good, positive House and Senate support on these bills.

“I’m grateful for these bills. I made an effort to really get to know our House leadership and committee leadership and then have plenty of friends in the Senate,” Reeves told State Affairs.

On the Senate side, three of the 10 bills with statewide impact introduced by Williams became law, the most of any freshman senator. In addition to getting time off for voting, Williams pushed through a bill that now makes dogfighting a Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) activity.

The sheer size of this year’s freshman class may have been the ace-in-the-hole that helped them flex their legislative muscles and get some pretty significant bills passed, one veteran political observer said. 

"When you have a fifth of the Senate and a quarter of the House who are brand new, there may actually be some greater need to have them participating,” Georgia’s dean of political observers Charles Bullock told State Affairs. “So they may end up getting better committee assignments, particularly for Republicans on the Senate side. They may not just get assignments but they’re given committee responsibilities, like being the vice chair of a committee. [But] if you just had one or two, those individuals probably wouldn't get that kind of opportunity.”

New leadership in both the House and Senate also may have helped the newcomers have a greater role in this year’s legislative session, said Bullock, University of Georgia political science professor.

Freshmen senators and representatives were instrumental in drafting and successfully pushing through a wide-range of legislation dealing with greater consumer protection and creation of programs that will ease financial burdens and address the state’s workforce shortage, such as the loan repayment programs for health care workers. 

The freshman lawmakers’ legislative hustle led to new laws that should help prevent mishaps for children in pools because parents will now be able to download national swimming safety standards on their computers. And pharmacy technicians will now be able to administer vaccines.

The newcomers also spent the session drafting local legislation for such things as homestead exemptions. There also were commendations and resolutions recognizing events, individuals and group achievements. 

For this story, State Affairs focused solely on legislation the freshmen lawmakers introduced that has statewide impact. Also, the reporting does not include bills that failed on their own but were incorporated  in larger legislation that passed.

As is par for the course, some newcomers’ efforts to get bills passed were blocked. Freshman Sen. Jason Esteves saw one of his bills glide through the General Assembly only to be vanquished by the governor’s pen. Esteves' bill, which would have required the state’s Employee Benefits Plan Council to create a health savings account, passed both chambers but was vetoed by Gov Kemp. The plan would have cost $300,000 to implement but “would have saved the state potentially millions,” Esteves told State Affairs.

Undaunted, Esteves plans to revive the bill next year.

“This time I’ll ensure that there’s money allocated for it so there’ll be no excuse not to modernize state health benefits,” Esteves said. In any case, he said he “felt good” about his first term as senator.

“I feel like I got some things done.”

Here’s a look at what the new lawmakers in both chambers accomplished during the 2023  legislative session:
SenatorsDistrictAuthored Bills*Bills that became state law**
Shelly Echols, R – Alto492SB 120 deals with safe operations of motor carriers, commercial motor vehicles, drivers and safe transportation of hazardous material.
Jason Esteves, D – Atlanta69None
Mike Hodges, R – Brunswick34SB 42 allows state officials to assess fines against Georgia businesses that don’t comply with posting printed alerts and phone numbers that come from the GBI, or National Human Trafficking Resource Center.
SB 246 creates a loan repayment program for nursing instructors, which will help increase the number of nurses in the state.
Nabilah Islam, D – Lawrenceville76None
Derek Mallow, D – Savannah23None
Josh McLaurin, D – Sandy Springs144SB 115 guarantees anglers have the right to fish on all of Georgia’s navigable streams and waterways.
Colton Moore, R – Trenton532None
Ed Setzler, R – Acworth375None
Shawn Still, R – Norcross487SB 160 changes or extends certain provisions in state employment security such as wages and other administrative assessments.
Sam Watson, R – Moultrie112None
Rick Williams, R – Milledgeville2510SB 68 includes dogfighting among Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations (RICO) activities.
SB 129 gives workers time off to advance vote or vote in person during primaries and on election day.
SB 168 allows chiropractic practices to file a lien on a cause of action in the same way a hospital is able to file a lien under similar circumstances. An amendment later added requires submission of bills to health insurers before a medical lien is filed.

New senators: 11
Total bills authored by freshmen senators:  54
Total bills authored by freshmen senators that became law: 8

House of RepresentativesDistrictAuthored bills*Bills that became law**
Solomon Adesanya, D-Marietta4312None
Segun Adeyina, D-Grayson110NoneNone
Michelle Au, D-Johns Creek504None
Bethany Ballard, R-Warner Robins1473HB 538 enacts the Georgia Early Literacy Act, which is intended to improve the quality of early reading instruction.
Imani Barnes, D-Tucker863None
Carter Barrett, R-Cumming245None
Eric Bell, D-Jonesboro75NoneNone
Lisa Campbell, D-Kennesaw351None
Chas Cannon, R- Moultrie1721HB 545 provides for an Agricultural Commodity Commission for citrus fruits.
Brent Cox, R-Dawsonville282None
Omari Crawford, D-Decatur845None
Terry Cummings, D-Mableton35NoneNone
Lauren Daniel, R-Locust Grove1175HB 175 updates the reference date to federal regulations regarding the safe operation of motor carriers and commercial motor vehicles. It also establishes specialty licenses for Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity Inc.
Saira Draper, D-Atlanta902None
Tim Fleming, R-Covington1143None
Lehman Franklin, R-Statesboro1603HB 302 allows courts to grant protective orders on a permanent basis rather than just temporary, as needed, in stalking cases.
HB 480 is a workers’ compensation law that increases the maximum weekly benefits for people injured or disabled due to workplace accidents. It also increases total compensation paid  to a surviving spouse or sole dependent of a worker killed on the job.
HB 285/SB 240***authorizes Employee’s Retirement Services to invest in alternative investments.
Lynn Gladney, D-Augusta1302None
Lydia Glaize, D-Fairburn672None
Scott Hilton, R-Peachtree Corners489HB 219 provides venue for offense of money laundering.
HB 402 provides water safety information for parents with children under the age of 18 as well as those over 18.
HB 453 repeals requirement that ambulance services pay annual license fee.
Soo Hong, R-Lawrenceville1032HB 128 provides for representation of minority business enterprises, women and veteran-owned businesses in procurement of state contracts.
HB 129 provides temporary assistance to pregnant women.
Mitchell Horner, R-Ringgold33None
Karlton Howard, D-Augusta129NoneNone
David Huddleston, R-Roopville722None
Derrick Jackson, D-Tyrone68NoneNone
Karen Lupton, D-Chamblee831None
Reynaldo “Rey” Martinez1112None
Derrick McCollum, R-Chestnut Mtn304None
Tanya Miller, D-Atlanta621None
Farooq Mughal, D-Dacula105NoneNone
Kimberly New, R-Villa Rica642HB 165 says public disclosure is not required relative to inspection of public records. The law will now include not releasing information such as the location of an historic resource if the department decides the disclosure would result in risk, harm or destruction of that resource.
Gabe Okoye, D-Lawrenceville102NoneNone
Phil Olaleye, D-Atlanta591None
Esther Panitch, D-Sandy Springs51NoneNone
Holt Persinger, R-Winder119NoneNone
Tremaine Teddy Reese, D-Columbus1401None
Matt Reeves, R-Duluth9913HB 182 revises provisions curing defective deeds and other instruments.
HB 383 creates the Safer Hospitals Act which provides for stiffer penalties for aggravated assault and aggravated battery against healthcare workers on hospital campuses.
HB 444 revises an action that operates as an official public notice that a lawsuit involving a claim on a property has been filed.
HB 543 revises an exception to the six-person jury trial in civil actions.
HB 572 renames the Georgia Government Transparency and Campaign Finance Commission the State Ethics Commission and removes a provision regarding repayment of loans to campaign committees.
Jordan Ridley, R-Woodstock223None
Ruwa Romman, D-Duluth97NoneNone
David Sampson, D-Albany153NoneNone
Deborah Silcox, R-Sandy Springs537HB 416 authorizes qualified pharmacy technicians to administer certain vaccines.
Doug Stoner, D-Smyrna401HB 440 authorizes public and private schools to keep a  supply of undesignated ready-to-use glucagon, a hormone the pancreas produces to help regulate a person’s blood glucose level.
Rick Townsend, R-Brunswick1791None
Long Tran, D-Dunwoody801None
Ken Vance, R-Milledgeville1334None
Anne Allen Westbrook, D-Savannah163NoneNone
Inga Willis, D- Atlanta55NoneNone

New representatives: 46

Total statewide bills authored by freshmen representatives:  111 

Total bills authored by freshmen representatives that became law:  19 

* Does not include resolutions.

**Authored bills signed into law by Gov. Brian Kemp. Does not include co-sponsored bills, resolutions or local legislation.    

*** Rep. Franklin’s bill, HB 285 became part of SB 240.   

Have questions, comments or tips? Contact Tammy Joyner on Twitter @lvjoyner or at [email protected].

Twitter @StateAffairsGA
Facebook @stateaffairsUS
Instagram @stateaffairsGA
LinkedIn @stateaffairs

Header image: Representatives Matt Reeves (left), Rey Martinez, Scott Hilton, Derek McCollum and Soo Hong pose with Speaker Jon Burns on the first day of the 2023 legislative session. (Credit: Georgia House of Representatives)