JUNE 19, 2021 - Families lined 26th Ave to watch the Juneteenth parade. Denver kicked off Juneteenth with the annual parade march from Manual High School to Five Points where there were well over 200 booths lining Welton Street. The Street Festival is open 2-8 p.m over the weekend with food, music and live entertainment. Juneteenth is celebrated each year on June 19 and commemorates the end of chattel slavery in the U.S., and now Congress has voted to mark the date as a federal holiday. (Photo by John Leyba)

Denver would recognize Juneteenth as a city holiday under a proposal approved by the City Council’s Finance and Governance Committee on Tuesday.

The proposal would need to pass two votes from the full council before being adopted. It would amend the Denver Revised Municipal Code to add a 12th paid holiday for the city's career service employees.

Juneteenth celebrates the emancipation of enslaved people in the United States. Last year, Mayor Michael Hancock and Councilman Chris Herndon introduced a bill making June 19 a commemorative holiday per city code. City Council approved the bill, said Skye Stuart, legislative director with the mayor’s office. Since then, both the federal and state government have made Juneteenth a holiday, prompting the city to consider making it an official holiday. 

On any given holiday, the city spends about $1.3 million in overtime pay for employees who must work on that holiday, Stuart said. June 19 also falls during a primary election window, so city election workers may have to take the holiday on a different day, she said.

Before adding a holiday to employee benefits, the city’s human resources department surveys other cities to determine a "generally prevailing practice."

Stuart said that 44 of the 92 entities that responded to the survey had an average of 11.81 paid holidays, meaning it’s reasonable for Denver to add a 12th holiday. Also, 61% of respondents already observe Juneteenth as a holiday and 20% of respondents are considering it. Aurora, Longmont, Lakewood and Loveland already recognize Juneteenth as a holiday, as well as national “peer cities” like Seattle, Portland, Nashville, Minneapolis and Phoenix.

The proposal will go to the full City Council for first reading on June 6 and final reading June 20. If approved by the full council, the change would be implemented in 2023.

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