CT Lawmakers Spend June 16 Holiday, But Slavery Comments Spark Backlash

HARTFORD — Connecticut lawmakers voted Wednesday to make June 16 an official holiday, following a lengthy debate that ignited passions over remarks by a conservative lawmaker about including slavery in the Constitution.

The June 19 holiday, which commemorates the date in 1865 when U.S. Army troops entered Galveston Bay and delivered the news of emancipation to slaves in Texas, has been celebrated for more than 150 years and is recognized as a paid holiday in five states, including New York and Texas.

The House passed legislation Wednesday to establish Juneteenth as the 13th holiday by a vote of 148-1. The bill is now heading to Lamont, who has said he is ready to dedicate the holiday as a paid day off for state employees.

A spokesperson for Lamont said Wednesday that the governor’s office would review the bill and its associated costs.

During the nearly two-hour debate on the bill, several black lawmakers rose to rebuke comments made by state Rep. Kimberly Fiorello, R-Greenwich, during a discussion of Founding Fathers’ attitudes towards slavery. Fiorello said she was “seeking to set the record straight” on the Three-Fifths Compromise – a section of the Constitution under which slaves were counted as three-fifths of the person – calling it a ” compromise towards freedom” which was pushed by the northern, free states.

Fiorello, who voted in favor of the June 19 holiday bill, had earlier complained that ‘since I’ve been here I’ve seen a focus on race which I think is unhealthy’ .

Those comments sparked a succession of speakers, beginning with Rep. Robyn Porter, D-New Haven, who pushed back against Fiorello’s comments.

“The fact that black people – men, women and children – were not considered full human beings for the purposes of taxation and representation, is what the Three-Fifths Compromise was rooted in and founded on. “said Porter, surrounded by several dozen people. of his fellow Democrats.

“Having recognized us as full human beings, I hope that’s what this holiday brings,” Porter said.

Connecticut has recognized Juneteenth as a memorial holiday since 2003. A number of prominent companies in the state, including The Hartford and Stanley, Black and Decker, have begun observing the holiday with a day off for workers in recent years. years.

President Joe Biden signed legislation in 2021 establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday.

“It’s something that for years black people have tried to see emerge from a simple memorial day,” said state Rep. Anthony Nolan, D-New London. “Having a memorial day is great, but having a holiday with respect to certain important moments in black history is so important to black people, and we don’t have that.”

Connecticut Black and Puerto Rican Caucus Chairman State Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, said the emotions in the room were palpable as lawmakers – some of whom lobbied unsuccessfully for recognition of the holiday of June 19 in previous sessions – have seen their efforts pay off.

“Personally, to be able to be on this slide, I was able to actually look and feel and look at the play, and honestly, when the bill passed, I almost hit the gavel with tears in my eyes,” Reyes said.

Despite the back and forth between Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday, only one lawmaker — state Rep. Gale Mastrofransesco, R-Wolcott — voted against the bill after raising concerns about the estimated $1.8 million price tag. dollars to $2.3 million to give state employees the day off.

In addition to state costs, making June 16 a paid holiday would add additional overtime costs of less than $50,000 a year to municipalities, according to a tax analysis.

“It’s out of control,” Mastrofransesco said, noting that most state employees already get several weeks of vacation and sick days. “What will be the next one that will be paid? We could offer many vacations.

The bill would treat Juneteenth as a non-premium holiday, meaning employees who work that day would not be eligible for a bonus such as they might receive on holidays like Christmas and Thanksgiving. Banks and credit unions would remain closed, as they are for public holidays.

The national holiday would be celebrated either on June 19 or on the nearest Friday or Monday, if that day falls on a weekend.

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