OLYMPIA – A day recognizing the women’s suffrage movement could soon be a paid holiday for state employees if a proposal being heard in the Legislature passes this session.
The proposal would designate March 22 as “Women’s Suffrage Day,” signifying the day in 1920 when the state of Washington voted to ratify the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The amendment wasn’t adopted until Aug. 18 when the 36th state ratified the amendment prohibiting the denial of the right to vote based on sex. Washington state granted women the right to vote, however, a decade earlier when the state Constitution was amended in 1910.
If passed, March 22 would become a paid day off for all state employees, which would result in the closure of state government offices. Other state holidays include Presidents Day, Veterans Day and Juneteenth – which was just added as a holiday during the 2021 legislative session.
At a House State Government and Tribal Affairs hearing on Monday, members of the public who testified were supportive of the recognition of women’s suffrage.
“We know the right of women to vote is critical,” said Janie White, of the Washington Education Association. “It is a right we value deeply and was hard fought by women who came before to achieve this.”
Washington would become the only state in the nation to recognize the women’s suffrage movement with a paid holiday.
A bipartisan coalition of representatives, including Rep. Jenny Graham, R-Spokane, introduced the bill during the last legislative session.
The bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Michelle Caldier, R-Port Orchard, credits the ratification of the amendment for much of her success.
“Because of that, I’m here today,” Caldier said at a committee meeting in February 2021. “I think that this is something that is very important to many people in our state.”
According to a fiscal analysis compiled by the state Office of Financial Management in 2021, the bill would cost around $7.5 million every two years to compensate state employees who have to work, even on holidays.
Some who testified had concerns about the bill’s scope. White spoke about the importance of being inclusive in recognizing when women gained the right to vote.
“Many Black women remained disenfranchised because the 19th Amendment did not eliminate state laws that operated to keep Black Americans from the polls in other states,” White said. She asked the committee to consider a date that recognizes “the suffrage movement for all women.” She did not suggest a new date, however.
The bill is currently awaiting a vote in the committee; a vote has not yet been scheduled. If it passes the committee, it will be heard by the full House.