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Senate lawmakers approved a bill Tuesday that would establish Juneteenth as a federal holiday after Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he would drop his objection to the measure.
The resolution, introduced by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, Sen. Ed Markey, D-Mass., and Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, passed by unanimous consent. House lawmakers are also expected to approve the bipartisan legislation.
“Happy that my bill to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday just passed the Senate,” Cornyn said on Twitter. “It has been a state holiday in Texas for more than 40 years. Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union.”
The Cornyn-backed bill was first introduced in the Senate in 2020 following nationwide protests against racial injustice after the death of George Floyd. Johnson was the lone senator to object to the legislation, arguing in July 2020 that the bill would place an undue burden on taxpayers by requiring them to fund another paid holiday for federal employees.
Johnson dropped his objection to the legislation on Tuesday.
“Last year, a bill was introduced to celebrate Juneteenth by providing an additional paid holiday for 2 million federal employees at a cost of $600 million per year,” Johnson said. “They attempted to pass the bill without debate or amendment process. Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate.”
“While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter. Therefore, I do not intend to object,” he added.
Juneteenth is celebrated on June 19 to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Union Army general Gordon Granger declared the abolishment of slavery in Galveston, Texas, more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
Juneteenth is already formally recognized in 47 states as well as Washington D.C., but few states celebrate it as a paid holiday for employees. If House lawmakers pass the legislation, it would proceed to President Biden’s desk for final approval.
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