Accusations arise following the failure of Juneteenth bill in Alabama Legislature

Rep. Juandalynn Givan, a Democrat from Birmingham, confidently takes her place on the floor of the Alabama Senate. The date is April 25, 2024, and she stands tall in the Alabama Statehouse in Montgomery. It is a moment of significance, as she prepares to address the issues that matter to her constituents. The atmosphere is charged with anticipation and the weight of responsibility. Givan is ready to make her voice heard and advocate for the interests of the people she represents.

The Alabama Legislature rejected a bill that aimed to establish Juneteenth as a state holiday, prompting the sponsor to raise concerns about the underlying motives behind this decision.

HB 4, introduced by Rep. Juandalynn Givan, D-Birmingham, aimed to establish Juneteenth as an official state holiday in Alabama. This significant day marks the end of slavery in America. It is important to note that the proposed legislation did not mandate a day off for state employees. Instead, the bill, which was later amended in the Republican-controlled chamber to align with a version proposed by Rep. Chris Sells, R-Greeneville, would have required state agencies to grant either Juneteenth or Jefferson Davis’ Birthday as a day off.

Jefferson Davis’ Birthday, observed on the first Monday of June, is a state holiday that honors the former Confederate president. Davis, who was a slaveholder and led a government rooted in white supremacy, is remembered on this day.

“We are currently residing in a state where there is a deliberate effort to eliminate Black history,” expressed Givan during a phone interview on Friday. “The teaching of this subject has been completely halted in our schools. Therefore, I strongly believe that it deserves its own dedicated holiday.”

In April, the House of Representatives successfully passed the bill, but it was not subsequently assigned to a Senate committee. This assignment is the initial step in the legislative process to move the legislation forward in the chamber.

Sen. Rodger Smitherman, a Democrat from Birmingham, has been accused by Givan of obstructing the progress of the bill.

“He expressed his anger towards me after I conveyed my desire for equal respect as a legislator, similar to the level of respect he demands as a senator,” she explained. “I want to emphasize this point so that you can quote me accurately. It is crucial to note that whenever someone attempts to initiate any action in the district he represents or seeks sponsorship from another legislator, he reacts swiftly and explosively.”

In an interview with the Reflector on Wednesday, Smitherman clarified that he was in favor of Givan’s bill and denied any involvement in its demise.

On Wednesday, he expressed his lack of authority to carry out what she was referring to in terms of validity or any other aspect.

I reached out to Smitherman twice for a follow-up on Friday.

Givan argued that the Juneteenth bill received specific attention due to the failure of a House vote on legislation that aimed to provide financial support to Birmingham-Southern College, a liberal arts school that is set to close down this week.

“I believe it was truly a sorrowful day for Alabama when a Black man, as I mentioned before, in a position of leadership, decided to oppose not just my bill, but several other bills, as a way to seek revenge for the situation with Birmingham-Southern,” she expressed her disappointment.

House Speaker Nathaniel Ledbetter, R-Rainsville, was accused by Givan of withholding Smitherman’s bills.

She insisted that passing a bill requires the involvement of both houses. She also mentioned that this year, the Speaker of the House took action when he learned about the situation. He held back the remaining bills proposed by Smitherman, which resulted in those five bills not being passed. She emphasized the importance of printing her statement exactly as she had given it.

A spokesperson for Reed expressed via text on Friday that several legislative measures necessitate thorough deliberation and effort both prior to and during their progress through the Senate. They noted that this particular case appears to fall within that category.

Givan expressed her intention to reintroduce the bill in the coming year, while Smitherman confirmed his endorsement of the proposed legislation.

President Joe Biden signed a law in 2021 to officially recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday. Last Monday, Governor Kay Ivey also declared Juneteenth as a state holiday. In states where there is no specific legislation, it will be the responsibility of governors to designate Juneteenth as a holiday.

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