OLYMPIA – Juneteenth is one step closer to becoming a paid state holiday in Washington, after a bill passage in the state Senate on Friday.
Juneteenth celebrates June 19, 1865, the day enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, finally learned that the Civil War had ended and they were free. It was more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. It’s often celebrated as Emancipation Day to celebrate the abolishment of slavery.
The bill, which passed 47-1, would make June 19 a paid day off for state employees, an effort to honor those who were slaves, celebrate the end of slavery and make a step toward improving the knowledge of Black history in the state.
“Today, we can take an actual step toward reconciliation,” Sen. T’wina Nobles, D-Firecrest, said during a floor speech Friday.
Washington designated Juneteenth as a day of remembrance in 2007, but this bill would take it a step further in Washington and make it a paid day off. Forty-six other states and the District of Columbia recognize it as a day of observance. Six other states in the country recognize it as a paid holiday, and many others have considered it within the last year.
Supporters say it is long overdue.
“But I think that recognition is the first step toward a certain kind of reconciliation that may be able to happen in our community,” co-chair of the Inland Northwest Juneteenth Coalition Michael Bethely said.
The coalition puts on celebrations every Juneteenth in Spokane.
The bill passed 47-1 in the Senate. Only Spokane Valley Republican Mike Padden voted against it.
Opponents of the bill have said it costs too much, especially during a pandemic and a time of economic recovery. A fiscal analysis of the bill says it would cost the state about $5.7 million every two years to pay staff who must work on the holiday. Both the Senate Democrats’ and the House Democrats’ proposed budgets for the next two years have appropriated those funds.
Nobles fought back in her floor speech.
“When will it be cheap enough for this state to acknowledge that slavery was wrong?” she said.
The bill now heads to the governor’s desk for a final signature.
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