ATLANTA — After President Joe Biden signed federal legislation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, Gov. Brian Kemp followed suit to make Juneteenth a state holiday. The governor, however, has refused to make it a paid holiday for state employees.
The governor’s office says in a statement that the decision to make Juneteenth a paid state holiday is not one he can make on his own.
Cody Hall, Gov. Kemp’s Communications Director, told Channel 2′s Tyisha Fernandes that state law requires there to be 12 paid state holidays, and the governor announces those holidays a year in advance.
“2021 state holidays were set in August of 2020. The two days available for the Governor to choose - other than the 10 mandated federal holidays - have already been assigned for this year to Good Friday and the day after Thanksgiving,” Hall said in a statement.
Hall said that in order for there to be more paid state holidays than the 12 that were already announced, the state legislature would have to change the law before Gov. Kemp could even make that decision.
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Some activists and community leaders tell Fernandes they believe Kemp’s decision speaks volumes.
“We have a right to challenge it,” said Father Roy Lee, a Catholic priest who serves all over the metro Atlanta area.
Father Lee applauds the governor for recognizing Juneteenth as a state holiday, but does not understand why he refuses to make it a state holiday.
Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 the last enslaved people learned of their freedom following the Emancipation Proclamation being signed years earlier.
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Gov. Kemp has said publicly that the state of Georgia already has 12 paid state holidays and he does not intend to add any more.
The American Civil Liberties Union has suggested replacing Columbus Day with Juneteenth as one of those 12 paid state holidays.
“I think silence speaks volumes, and we can tag on many layers to that silent treatment, which I think is unfortunate. I think it’s a lost opportunity,” said Father Lee.
Father Lee thinks it’s important for the governor to at least listen to his constituents on this matter.
Marcus Coleman is a national activist based in Atlanta who has been fighting to get Juneteenth on the calendar as an official holiday for years.
“[Kemp] doesn’t wanna have the tough questions because those tough questions bring about accurate history...Accurate history brings about knowledge of self, and knowledge of self brings about change,” said Coleman.
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Hall says that the governor’s office will announce the paid state holidays for 2022 in the coming months.
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