Juneteenth could become a paid state holiday next year

The Alaska Legislature earlier this year passed a bill that would make Juneteenth, a June 19th commemoration of the end of slavery in the U.S., a paid state holiday, but the bill will not be in effect for this year’s Juneteenth Day on Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by Sen. Elvi Gray Jackson, an Anchorage Democrat, was adopted by the Senate last year in a 16-4 vote. It passed the House last month in a 37-3 vote. The seven no votes came from Republicans.

Republican Gov. Mike Dunleavy has yet to sign it or comment on whether he intends to allow it to become law. Unless otherwise specified, bills go into effect 90 days after the governor signs them, meaning that even if the governor were to sign the bill early this week, state employees still would not receive a paid holiday on Wednesday.

Gray Jackson, who was slated to attend a Juneteenth celebration at the White House later this week, said Monday that even if state employees don’t receive a paid holiday this year, she hoped Dunleavy would sign the bill ahead of this year’s Juneteenth Day because of the symbolic significance of allowing the bill to become law.

Juneteenth is already a federal holiday and a paid state holiday in a majority of U.S. states. As of last year, it is also a paid holiday for Anchorage municipal employees.

The bill was transmitted to Dunleavy on June 13, giving him several days to sign it before this year’s June 19 holiday. But Rep. Stanley Wright, an Anchorage Republican who co-sponsored the bill, said Dunleavy would not be able to sign the measure because “he is out of town.” Dunleavy spokespeople did not respond to several questions about whether and when the governor planned to sign the bill, or the governor’s whereabouts.

Dunleavy has until the end of the month to sign the measure, veto it, or allow it to become law without his signature.


Existing state law instructs the governor to issue a proclamation marking Juneteenth Day on the third Saturday of June. Dunleavy’s Saturday proclamation was not accompanied by any public statements or social media posts.

The origin of Juneteenth Day goes back to June 19, 1865, when Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and freed more than 250,000 enslaved Black people.

Juneteenth commemoration events in Anchorage included a celebration on the Park Strip on Sunday, and continued Monday with a luncheon that drew Attorney General Treg Taylor, U.S. Rep. Mary Peltola, Mayor-Elect Suzanne LaFrance, and several state lawmakers, among others.

Celeste Hodge Growden, president and CEO of the Alaska Black Caucus, said Monday that she hoped Dunleavy would sign the legislation. Because Juneteenth is already formally recognized as a federal and Anchorage city holiday, “we just need to close the loop full circle, make this full circle by having the governor sign it,” she said.

“It would just make such a world of difference,” she said. “It would show so much that the governor recognizes the importance of Juneteenth. This legislation, if he were to sign it, would go a long way, I think, in bettering our relationships.”

Gray Jackson said Monday that after Juneteenth became a federal holiday in 2021, she got to work drafting a bill to make it a state holiday. The bill did not immediately gain traction, but after she reintroduced it in 2023, it received a positive response from lawmakers. She said she met with most House members earlier this year to advocate for the measure. The biggest concern she heard was about the bill’s cost.

According to fiscal notes produced this year, making Juneteenth a state holiday was expected to cost the state upward of $950,000 per year, mostly in overtime and holiday pay for essential service providers. More than half the cost would come from the Department of Corrections, which estimated the holiday would increase its budget by more than $534,000 per year.

Gray Jackson said she had a ready response for concerned lawmakers: “You can’t put a price on celebrating freedom.”

Iris Samuels

Iris Samuels is a reporter for the Anchorage Daily News focusing on state politics. She previously covered Montana for The AP and Report for America and wrote for the Kodiak Daily Mirror. Contact her at isamuels@adn.com.