Georgia Legislature approves Juneteenth holiday for state employees

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

Credit: robert.andres@ajc.com

The Georgia Senate on Friday gave final approval to a bill that makes Juneteenth a paid day off for Georgia employees.

Even though Gov. Brian Kemp placed the day on the calendar of state holidays in December, the Legislature had to approve House Bill 1335. With its passage, and Kemp’s expected signature, the governor is allowed to expand the number of paid state holidays observed by Georgia employees from 12 to 13.

The bill updates state law to stay in line with the federal government, which designated Juneteenth as a holiday last year.

HB 1335, sponsored by retiring state Rep. Calvin Smyre, D-Columbus, passed the Senate 49-1. State Sen. Carden Summers, R-Cordele, was the only senator to vote against the measure.

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Kemp asked Smyre, who is retiring after serving 48 years in the state House, to carry the legislation as one of his last pieces of legislation on the governor’s behalf. Smyre also sponsored the legislation that established Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a state holiday in 1984.

President Joe Biden has nominated Smyre to serve as the U.S. Ambassador to the Dominican Republic. His confirmation process is expected to resume later this year.

Officially, Juneteenth National Independence Day — which normally falls on June 19 — recognizes the day in 1865 when some slaves in Galveston, Texas, first learned they were free, despite the Emancipation Proclamation ending slavery in the Confederate states two years prior.

The holiday was approved by Congress earlier this year and signed into law by President Joe Biden. Since then, several metro Atlanta cities have made Juneteenth an official or paid holiday. Because the holiday will fall on a Sunday in 2022, Georgia will observe Juneteenth on June 20.

HB 1335 would also recognize the week that includes Sept. 11 of each year as “Public Safety Week” in Georgia.

The bill now goes to the Kemp for his signature.