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Polis, Black legislative leaders spotlight Juneteenth holiday push as bill moves closer to passage

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Posted at 1:09 PM, Mar 02, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-02 15:29:24-05

DENVER — Gov. Jared Polis and members of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus of Colorado highlighted legislation that would make Juneteenth an official state holiday.

Polis was joined by Sen. Janet Buckner, Sen. James Coleman, Rep. Leslie Herod, and leadership from the state employee’s union, Tanesha McQueen and Skip Miller, on the steps of the state Capitol building Wednesday. Juneteenth Music Festival President Norman Harris also spoke during the press briefing.

The bill, SB22-139, is sponsored by Buckner and Coleman and will give state employees paid time off on June 19. Juneteenth is already a federal holiday and SB22-139 would make it officially recognized by the state.

“We need to grapple with our history and never forget that slavery happened,” Sen. Buckner said. “And I think that Juneteenth is largely seen as an African-American thing, but it should be seen as something for the general population to be educated about and never forgotten.”

The bill was introduced in the state Senate on Feb. 24 and shares wide support both in the legislature and by Gov. Polis. The bill is scheduled for hearing in the Senate on March 15. It will then move to the House where it’s expected to pass.

Members of Colorado Workers for Innovative and New Solutions (WINS), the union representing state employees, negotiated their first contract with the state last year and won a provision to make Juneteenth a state holiday.

"I’m thrilled to be standing here today with our Governor and amazing bill sponsors, who are working to pass legislation to make Juneteenth as a state holiday,” Skip Miller said. “This is a critical part of our broader commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and movement to increase fairness and equality in our state agencies.”

Rep. Herod said attempts in the past to recognize Juneteenth as a state holiday were met with budget constraints. But Herod, who serves on the Joint Budget Committee, said funding for the bill this time around appears to have broader support.

“There is funding that is needed to make sure that this bill is implemented accurately. We have committed to that on the Joint Budget Committee,” Rep. Herod said.

June 19, 1865, marks the date that the last known African-American slaves were freed. The holiday commemorates the liberation of enslaved men and women in areas that were not made aware of the effect of the Emancipation Proclamation until almost two and a half years later.

If passed, Juneteenth would become the 11th state holiday in Colorado. It’s expected to be implemented in 2022.