NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — The legislation that would make Juneteenth a legal holiday in Tennessee will be heard on the Senate floor this week after clearing its final committee hurdle in that chamber.
The measure is sponsored by the leaders of both chambers, but Memphis Democrat Raumesh Akbari took up the mantle on the bill’s discussion in the Finance, Ways, and Means Committee Tuesday, saying the day holds meaning for not just Black Tennesseans but people all across the state.
“It is a celebration that really should not just be for African-Americans, but for folks across this state,” she said in the hearing.
The bill is supported by Gov. Bill Lee, who sought to make the change from a special observance to a legal holiday last year, according to his spokesperson Jade Byers.
“The Governor believes it’s appropriate to commemorate Juneteenth with a state holiday, both to recognize an important day for freedom in America as we move toward a more perfect union and to be consistent with the federal calendar,” she told News 2 in January when the bill was introduced.
The bill is not without its detractors, however, as Hohenwald Sen. Joey Hensley took issue with the measure. He said when this issue came before the legislature last time, he asked his constituents if they had heard of Juneteenth to little recognition.
“I don’t think we need to be making a holiday for something that happened in Texas,” he said. “It’s going to cost the state $700,000. It’s a holiday that most people don’t know what it is. It’s coming two weeks after Memorial Day and two weeks before July the Fourth, so I just don’t think we need to make a holiday just because the federal government does. I don’t think we need to.”
Akbari countered Hensley’s assertion that people weren’t aware of the holiday, pointing out the city of Columbia made the day an official holiday.
The bill cleared the committee 9-1 with only Hensley opposed. It will be heard by the full Senate Thursday, March 23.
Hundreds of bills will be up for debate during the 113th General Assembly. Tennessee lawmakers shared their thoughts on some of the major issues up for discussion at this year’s legislative session.
What lawmakers had to say about: Abortion Ban Clarification | Marijuana Reform | Transgender Therapy and LGBTQ+ Rights | Dept. of Children’s Services | Education | Crime/Public Safety | More
You can also find daily coverage from the session here.