NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The Tennessee Senate overwhelmingly approved a measure that would change Juneteenth from a “day of special observance” to a legal, paid holiday Thursday morning.
June 19, or Juneteenth, is the day observed by Black and African-Americans as fully liberating enslaved African-Americans. The day was recognized as a federal holiday in 2021, and Metro Nashville made it a paid holiday in 2022 by executive order from Mayor John Cooper.
Currently, in Tennessee, the holiday is a “day of special observance,” meaning state employees are still required to work on that day. By making it a legal holiday, state employees would receive a paid day off like they do for Martin Luther King Jr. Day or Christmas Day.
The measure is supported by Gov. Bill Lee, who attempted to pass the same measure in 2022. That bill was brought by Minority Leader Karen Camper in 2022 but was “taken off notice” in the House, effectively killing it for that session.
“The Governor believes it’s appropriate to commemorate Juneteenth with a state holiday, both to recognize an important day for freedom in America as we move toward a more perfect union and to be consistent with the federal calendar,” said Lee’s spokesperson Jade Byers.
This year’s measure was filed by Senate Leader Jack Johnson (R—Franklin) and House Leader William Lamberth (R—Portland) but introduced by Sen. Raumesh Akbari in Senate committees and on the floor.
During the Thursday floor session, the bill gained the constitutional majority for the chamber, passing 24-4. Senators voting “no” were Mark Pody (R—Lebanon), Joey Hensley (R—Hohenwald), Brent Taylor (R—Memphis) and Janice Bowling (R—Tullahoma).
Pody previously voted against the measure in committee. He told News 2 earlier in March that holidays in the state should be “directly related to Tennesseans.”
“Slavery was an evil part of American history. Thank God that in Tennessee slavery was ended months before it was ended in Texas on June 19, 1865. In fact, Tennesseans officially abolished slavery in the state with an amendment to the State’s constitution on February 22, 1865,” he said in part.
Sens. Paul Bailey (R—Sparta), Todd Gardenhire (R—Chattanooga), Paul Rose, Steve Southerland (R—Morristown) and Ken Yager (R—Kingston) did not vote.
The House companion bill is set for further discussion in the Public Service Subcommittee Tuesday, March 28.