WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Tuesday unanimously passed a bill establishing Juneteenth as a federal holiday after Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., announced he would not block the legislation like he did last year.
Juneteenth — which officially falls on June 19 — marks the day in 1865 when enslaved Black people in Texas were freed with the arrival of federal troops, nearly two-and-a-half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Though slavery was not completely abolished until the 13th Amendment, which came six months later, Juneteenth has come to symbolize the end of slavery.
Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, who introduced the bill along with Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, praised the passage of the legislation on his Twitter account Tuesday, writing, "Happy that my bill to recognize Juneteenth as a national holiday just passed the Senate. 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."
Last year, Johnson blocked legislation that would make Juneteenth a federal holiday, saying lawmakers "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."
Johnson explained that the reason he blocked the bill was that he estimated the holiday would provide an additional paid holiday for millions of federal employees "at a cost of $600 million per year," he claimed in a press release.
On Tuesday, Johnson said in a statement that it is "clear there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter," and that he does not intend to object the legislation again.
Johnson’s shift cleared a path for the bill that has overwhelming bipartisan support.
The news comes as Louisiana officially recognized Juneteenth as a legal state holiday on June 13.
The third Saturday in June will be celebrated as Juneteenth Day in the Bayou State, under a bill passed without any nay votes and signed by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
The Louisiana House voted 87-0 for the measure by Baton Rouge Democratic Rep. Larry Selders, while senators gave it final passage 37-0.
This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.