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Georgia governor backs Juneteenth as state holiday

Posted at 8:19 AM, Dec 22, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-22 09:19:10-05

ATLANTA (AP) — Gov. Brian Kemp is supporting a plan to add Juneteenth as a mandatory 13th holiday for Georgia state employees.

Georgia law now mandates the observance of the 10 federal holidays set in 1984, when Martin Luther King Jr. Day was first observed. But a new federal law signed by President Joe Biden added Juneteenth as an 11th federal holiday, marking the 1865 date that some enslaved Black people in Texas became among the last in Confederacy to learn that Abraham Lincoln had ordered them freed through 1863′s Emancipation Proclamation.

“The legislation that was prefiled is in keeping with the state’s traditional protocol — last updated in 1984 with the addition of MLK holiday — to recognize all federal holidays,” said Katie Byrd, a spokesperson for Kemp.

State Rep. Lauren McDonald III, a Cumming Republican, introduced a bill on Monday that would mandate Georgia observe all federal holidays including Juneteenth, adding the 13th paid day off. McDonald, a Kemp floor leader, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that the governor asked him to put the measure forward in the House. Lawmakers are likely to consider it after they convene in January.

Kemp already has the power to shift the observance of two unnamed state holidays. Those days used to specifically commemorate Confederate Memorial Day on April 26 and Robert E. Lee’s birthday on Jan 19. In 2015, after Dylann Roof shot and killed nine people during a bible study at a Black church in Charleston, South Carolina, then-Gov. Nathan Deal stopped designating Lee’s Birthday and Confederate Memorial Day as holidays.

This year, what is now the unnamed Jan. 19 state holiday was taken on the Friday after Thanksgiving, while the unnamed April 26 state holiday was observed on Good Friday before Easter.

Kemp is overdue in designating what days will be observed in 2022, an apparent consequence of deciding what to do about Juneteenth. He fixed the 2021 holidays in an a memo on Aug. 17, 2020 and fixed the 2020 holidays in a July 15, 2019 memo. But 2022′s holidays still haven’t been posted to a state employee website.

Although some federal agencies closed in June days after the Juneteenth bill was signed, Georgia state government remained open. Kemp signed a proclamation recognizing Juneteenth, but that didn’t make it a holiday.

House Bill 444 was introduced last year in the state House by Rep. Miriam Paris of Macon and other Democrats to mandate that Juneteenth be a state holiday, but saw no action. It was the third time Paris had introduced the bill.

Paris said the holiday marks the liberation of both those who were enslaved and those who were oppressing the slaves.

“Juneteenth is a day for all Americans,” Paris said Tuesday. “The end of slavery is something that everyone should be happy and jubilant over.”

The Georgia chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union had called for Kemp to drop the Columbus Day holiday on Oct. 11 and instead designate Juneteenth, saying Columbus Day commemorates the shameful dispossession and killing of the native peoples of the Americas.

So far, at least 11 states have designated Juneteenth as an official paid state holiday — Illinois, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Jersey, New York, Texas, Virginia and Washington. All but Texas, where the events of the original Juneteenth took place, acted after the killing of George Floyd last year.

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Follow Jeff Amy on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jeffamy