OLYMPIA, Wash. — The state of Washington started its Juneteenth celebration a little early.
Complete with food, music, speeches and poetry, state employees and community members marked the first state celebration of the newest paid holiday on the Capitol campus Thursday.
“This is an achievement. This is what we fight for,” said state Rep. Melanie Morgan, D-Pierce County.
Morgan was the prime sponsor of the 2021 bill making Juneteenth a paid holiday for state workers.
Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day slaves in Texas got word they had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years earlier.
Morgan first introduced the legislation naming it a state holiday in 2020, but it did not pass until 2021.
Morgan said initially a number of lawmakers opposed the move over potential costs to the state. Adding a new paid holiday would cost the state an estimated $7.5 million, the governor's budget office estimated.
”When is it going to be cheap enough for us to celebrate those who have gone before us in these atrocities that were committed against them?” said Morgan.
During her speech at the official state celebration, Morgan noted Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill months before President Joe Biden authorized the legislation making Juneteenth a federal holiday.
Washington is one of only 18 states offering its state employees pay for the day off. Others include Oregon, Colorado and Texas.
Morgan said she hopes that number increases by next year’s Juneteenth.
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