ST PAUL, Minn. — On this Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we're looking ahead to June.
Lawmakers from both the Minnesota House and Senate recently introduced legislation that would make Juneteenth an official state holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas, learned President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation two-and-a-half years prior.
While Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, most states don't recognize it as a paid holiday, including Minnesota.
"How could that be? It's because sometimes when something is too painful, we'd rather ignore it than it is to embrace that painful time but say what we should do to really show progress and move forward," State Senate President Bobby Joe Champion (DFL) D-59 said.
Champion, who is Minnesota's first Black Senate president, authored a bill that would give state employees a paid day off and close state offices. State senators John Marty (DFL) D-40 and Omar Fateh (DFL) D-62 are coauthors. Similar bills didn't gain much traction in the past but Champion described a renewed sense of optimism this year.
"Even before me, Randy Staten had pushed for it," he said. "Our Attorney General Keith Ellison who was then a state representative, he pushed for it … We're going to get Juneteenth recognized as a state holiday this legislative session."
Meanwhile, 13 state representatives are behind a House version of the bill authored by State Rep. Ruth Richardson (DFL) D-52B. One of the coauthors, State Rep. Cedrick Frazier (DFL) D-43A, told KARE 11 that some unionized state employees already negotiated Juneteenth into their contracts and says making it a state holiday could mean more private companies will follow suit.
"In fact, some of the private employers in this state came on board to provide MLK Day as a paid holiday after the murder of George Floyd," Frazier said. "This is the year for us to get [Juneteenth] done."
Both bills include language saying "the governor may also take any additional action necessary to promote and encourage the observance of Juneteenth and public schools may offer instruction and programs on the occasion."
At this stage, the bills have passed through committees. Champion said legislation could reach the governor's desk possibly by the end of next month and definitely before June.
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