The Welcome, Freshman Award 

Rep. Simone Bell

During her first 40 days under the Gold Dome, Bell successfully bucked the tradition that first-term lawmakers should sit down and keep quiet. The first African-American openly gay woman to serve in any state legislature, Bell, was one of the most vocal opponents of the pipe dream to create Milton County. When Sen. Judson Hill pushed legislation to allow out-of-state insurance companies to hawk policies in Georgia – while not covering state-mandated programs such as mammograms – she challenged that as well. She also opened up her colleagues' eyes during a House Women's Caucus meeting when she asked private foster agency representatives how they deal with children who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgendered. According to sources in attendance, there was silence, but congratulations from colleagues afterward. With only one other openly gay state lawmaker in office – state Rep. Karla Drenner, D-Decatur – it's nice that the LGBT community has such a vocal representative in an environment that's typically been hostile to its needs. Add in the fact that she's already been appointed vice chair of a House subcommittee and you can see Bell is no seat warmer.

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