(The Center Square) – The Florida Senate on April 21 unanimously passed a bill that would have added three state holidays to the calendar: May 20 Emancipation Day, June 19 Juneteenth Day and Nov. 7 Victims of Communism Day.
The bill was never heard on the House floor, however, and it died when the session adjourned April 30.
But with President Joe Biden Thursday signing the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act” approved by Congress this week making June 19th the 11th federal holiday and the first new one since 1983, proponents of recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday in Florida say they’ll reintroduce the measures in 2022.
Sen. Randolph Bracy, D-Ocoee, who sponsored the Senate measure and Rep. Travaris McCurdy, D-Orlando, who filed its House companion, both vow to resubmit similar bills in 2022.
“In light of what Washington is doing, I think we’ll come back and do it again next year, since we were so close,” said Bracy, who is running for the Tampa-area Congressional seat now occupied by U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist, the former Republican governor and a 2022 Democratic gubernatorial candidate.
“I expect full support in the House this time around, now that we have had a chance to negotiate and figure out what they are comfortable with, and figure out what the Senate is comfortable with,” Bracy told Florida Politics. “We’re very close.”
“No I wasn’t able to convince my colleagues that this was necessary. But I’m happy to know our leaders in D.C. are watching our efforts on the state level,” McCurdy tweeted. “I couldn’t even get a hearing for my bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday in Florida. Happy to see this!”
Juneteenth is a paid holiday for state workers in six states states – Texas, Virginia, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts – and recognized as a day of observation in 40 others, including Florida, since 1991. Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed a bill into law this week making it a paid holiday for state workers in Illinois starting in 2022.
June 19 is one of 34 days of “special observances” identified in state statue, along with Missing Children Day (second Monday of September), I Am An American Day (third Sunday of October) and Homeless Persons Memorial Day, Dec. 21
As a day of “special observance,” the governor typically issues “a proclamation calling on public officials, schools, private organizations, and all citizens to honor the historic significance of the day.”
Juneteenth, however, is not among are 21 state holidays recognized in Florida law, which include Robert E. Lee’s Birthday (January 19), the Confederate Memorial Day (April 26) and Jefferson Davis’s Birthday (June 3). None are among the nine legal paid holidays for state workers.
During the 2020 session, companion resolutions urging Congress to recognize June 19 as Juneteenth Independence Day died on the Senate floor. Its House companion never got a hearing.
SB 490 advanced through two Senate panels before stalling on the chamber floor. HB 185 never got a hearing.
Legislative analysts estimate making Juneteenth a paid holiday would cost the state. $14.5 million in “lost value” and some historians question the veracity of the proposal.
May 20, 1865, is recognized as Florida slaves’ “emancipation day.” That’s when Union Brigadier General Edward McCook after accepting the Confederate surrender and read Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in Tallahassee.
The Senate approved the amended HB 1553 unanimously and sent it back to the House for endorsement. The House had previously approved the bill but, with May 20 and June 19 added, HB 1553 died on the floor as the session expired.