Norman Harris, president of the Juneteenth Music Festival in Denver, spoke during a news conference on March 2, 2022, with members of the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus of Colorado and Colorado WINS. (Faith Miller/Colorado Newsline)
Last year, President Joe Biden signed legislation to make June 19 — or Juneteenth, a day long celebrated by African American communities across the country — a federal holiday. Juneteenth commemorates when in 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas, and ensured that enslaved people there would be freed. It’s celebrated as the day when slavery ended in the U.S.
Under a proposed Colorado law, Juneteenth would also become a state holiday, meaning that state employees would have the day off from work.
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Members of Colorado WINS, the state employees’ union, and the Black Democratic Legislative Caucus of Colorado on Wednesday urged support for Senate Bill 22-139 during a news conference outside the Capitol. The bill is sponsored by Democratic Sens. James Coleman of Denver and Janet Buckner of Aurora, along with Democratic Rep. Leslie Herod of Denver.
“This is such a critical part to a broader commitment to diversity in our state,” Skip Miller, the president of Colorado WINS, said during Wednesday’s news conference. Another part of that commitment is the legislation to commission a study on pay equity for state employees, which Polis signed Tuesday, Miller said.
“There are disparities in the opportunities that all of the state employees get,” Miller said. “We see that there’s disparities based on race, based on gender and based on other factors, and we really need to keep working” to fix them.
Tanesha McQueen, a member of Colorado WINS who also spoke Wednesday, got into advocacy work because she was inspired by her relatives, including her uncle Wellington Webb, who was the first Black mayor of Denver, and her aunt, former state Rep. Wilma Webb. Herod, who chairs the Black Caucus, noted that Rep. Webb had worked for years to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a state holiday.
McQueen said she wanted to see her son grow up “in a world where he cannot only survive but thrive. I want him to be celebrated for who he is and his heritage.”
Norman Harris, president of the Juneteenth Music Festival in Denver’s Five Points neighborhood, said he welcomed Coloradans to “set their calendars” for June 19 and plan to enjoy the event. The prospect of Juneteenth becoming a state holiday shows “with vision, with focus and with just a lot of love that we can effect change and we can get the outcomes that we want,” Harris said.
SB-139 was introduced on Feb. 24 and is set for a first hearing on March 15 before the Senate State, Veterans, and Military Affairs Committee. It has the support of the governor and is likely to pass.
The other 10 state holidays include New Years Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, the Fourth of July, Labor Day, Frances Xavier Cabrini Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and Christmas. A 2020 state law created Frances Xavier Cabrini Day to replace Columbus Day in October.
A fiscal analysis by nonpartisan legislative staff predicted that departments in the state government may have to increase staff hours and overtime pay to continue to provide certain services on the state holiday. The analysis assumed that employees who were required to work on Juneteenth would be granted an alternate holiday. It predicted that the increased costs to the state would be small and could be addressed during the normal budget process.
Herod, who sits on the Joint Budget Committee, said the committee would ensure that funds were allocated to cover the costs of the holiday.
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