Alaska Legislature

Alaska Senate advances bill to make Juneteenth a state holiday

JUNEAU — The Alaska Senate advanced legislation to the House on Wednesday to establish Juneteenth as a state public holiday.

The federal government and at least 24 states recognize Juneteenth, which falls on June 19 and is a national celebration of the end of slavery.

Senate Bill 22 passed the Senate on a 16-4 vote, with four Republicans opposed.

Anchorage Democrat Elvi Gray-Jackson, the second Black woman to be elected to the state Senate, said Wednesday on the Senate floor that a Juneteenth holiday would be “a chance to celebrate the progress we have made.”

The Legislature passed a bill in 2001 to recognize Juneteenth through an annual proclamation, but the measure did not establish June 19 as Alaska’s 12th state public holiday. SB 22 would give state employees a paid day off for Juneteenth, depending on approval by labor union bargaining units. It would not automatically apply to the private sector.

Opposition to the Senate’s Juneteenth holiday bill focused on its estimated $1.3 million price tag for direct costs, which would largely be incurred for providing overtime pay to some state employees, such as Alaska State Troopers and correctional officers. The four Senate Republicans who voted against it were David Wilson, Mike Shower, Shelley Hughes and Robb Myers.

Wilson, the first Black man elected to the Alaska Senate, said that establishing Juneteenth as a public holiday would further commercialize the day with businesses attempting to profit from it.


Wilson said the true value of Juneteenth was in its history, and that the cost of another public holiday would be better spent on increasing access for minorities to essential services like health care. In a brief interview after the floor vote, Gray-Jackson bristled at those cost concerns.

“You cannot put a price on celebrating freedom,” she said. “That’s how I see it.”

Anchorage Republican Rep. Stanley Wright, one of a few Black legislators to have served in the state House, introduced his own Juneteenth bill in January. He was hopeful the measure could pass through the Legislature and reach the governor’s desk before the May 17 end of the regular legislative session.

“It’s an opportunity for folks to understand where they came from and understand the past,” Wright said of Juneteenth. “We don’t take the time to understand our history.”

In February, the Anchorage Assembly unanimously voted to make Juneteenth and Indigenous Peoples Day in October municipal holidays.

[Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly said the Alaska Legislature passed a bill in 2021 to recognize Juneteenth through an annual proclamation. The bill passed in 2001.]

Sean Maguire

Sean Maguire is a politics and general assignment reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Juneau. He previously reported from Juneau for Alaska's News Source. Contact him at