New Jersey legislature passes bill making Juneteenth a state holiday

New Jersey is the latest state to pass legislation to formally recognize Juneteenth as a holiday.

The Democratic-led state legislature passed the bill on Thursday as part of a set of legislation aimed at addressing the state’s racial history. The measure designates the third Friday in June as Juneteenth Day, which commemorates June 19, 1865, the day that Union Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger rode into Galveston, Texas, and told enslaved Americans about their emancipation.

The measure passed with little opposition in the Senate, with 35 votes for and 3 against, while two senators chose not to vote. In the Assembly, the measure was also met with little pushback, with no vote against the bill, though a group of a dozen Republicans did abstain, including GOP leader Jon Bramnick, who worried about the fiscal impact of adding a new state holiday.

“An abstention is an indication that I respect the holiday but I also respect the taxpayers,” Bramnick told CNN on Friday.

Juneteenth — a mix between June and nineteenth — is the oldest known US celebration of the end of slavery. Since Texas became the first state to make Juneteenth a holiday in 1980, 47 US states and the District of Columbia have commemorated the day by either marking it as a state holiday or observance.

The other bill passed by the lawmakers was a measure that will end the practice of local governments using the title freeholder for county-level positions. The measure was first introduced by Republican Sen. Joseph Pennacchio in 2011. The Republican argued the name change was necessary as the title confused voters and kept New Jersey tied to its colonial past.

New Jersey is the only state in the country to still use the title freeholder for county government officials, according to Pennacchio. The bill will retitle the elected positions as county commissioners.

The title freeholder refers to someone who owned land free of any debts. The term was established when only white male landowners could hold office.

“The change is long overdue,” said Pennacchio in a statement following the vote on Thursday. “Since 2011 when I first introduced the measure, the Legislature’s interest had been lukewarm. This bill is a change that will help residents better understand county leadership and recognize who they can turn to when they need help from local government. It’s not about rewriting history.”

The measures now head to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who showed his support for the Freeholder bill in a Thursday Twitter post.

“Amid the national reckoning to remove painful symbols and references of oppression, New Jersey is on the cusp of eliminating the term ‘Freeholder’ from governance,” said Murphy in the post, which included a video with Rutgers University President Jonathan Holloway explaining the origins of the term.