State Rep. Juandalynn Givan (D-Birmingham) blames Senate leadership, specifically State Sen. Rodger Smitherman (D-Birmingham), for blocking her legislation making Juneteenth a state holiday.

The 2024 legislative session had no lack of drama, with feuding between the House and Senate. Mostly revolving around proposed gambling legislation, both bodies engaged in gamesmanship up to the last day of the session to advance their respective legislation. The political gridlock sometimes resulted in either chamber refusing to pass the other's bills.

SEE: Feud erupts between the House and Senate — Both bodies refuse votes on the other's bills

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House Bill 4 (HB4) sought to officially make Juneteenth a statewide holiday. Unlike other state holidays, Juneteenth would not mandate closing state offices. Instead, state offices would be compelled to create policies allowing employees to select to celebrate either Juneteenth or Jefferson Davis' birthday.

The bill passed the House with relative ease but sat in the Senate basket, not receiving deliberation as session time winded down.

According to Givan, who expressed her displeasure with the Senate's tactics multiple times from the House floor, Smitherman asked Senate leadership to kill her bill due to issues Smitherman had with Givan over the recent drama with Birmingham-Southern College (BSC).

State Sen. Jabo Waggoner (R-Vestavia Hills) and Smitherman sponsored a 2023 bill to create a loan program to help the struggling BSC. Givan carried the bill in the House. After BSC announced it was shutting its doors, Givan sponsored legislation in the 2024 session to repeal the loan program.

Givan said she heard through the grapevine that Smitherman blamed her for BSC's collapse for reasons never fully explained.

"I sent [Smitherman] a message, and I basically said to him, 'This is very disrespectful. I cannot come into your district and disrespect you, and I'm not going to allow you to disrespect me in my district,'" Givan said. "Well, in the meantime, he had already told people I killed Birmingham-Southern. So, from there he went to the Pro-Tem [Greg Reed], he and Jabo because they're bosom buddies and was like, they didn't want my bill to move out of the basket. So why are you, a black man, a leader, a former Pro Tem of the Senate, the first one elected, and you will not allow a Juneteenth bill to get out of the basket? And that's what happened, and that's why I called it out on the House floor for what it was."

"At the end of the day, let me just be clear, the Juneteenth bill failed because Rodger Smitherman went to the Pro Tem and had him hold the bill in the basket," Givan continued.

Givan said Smitherman attempted to appeal to the Legislative Black Caucus to advance his bills in the House, which she said led to further tension.

"He didn't have the votes either on the Republican side or the Democrat side, so if anyone killed Birmingham-Southern, he did," Givan said. "You cannot come down and talk to people any kind of way. You can't come and basically strong-arm someone into passing legislation or, moving a bill or voting for you. So, a lot of the Democratic House members took issue with it, and it just went from there. So when he came down and it didn't go well for him, it just never went anywhere."

"He does it to people all the time," Givan continued. "He's never done it to me, and this is going to be his last year doing it. But, at the end of the day, I stood my ground. He had five more bills to get out [of the House], and those bills did not get out."

Givan did not enumerate a specific problem Smitherman had with her regarding the BSC situation, stating, instead, that he was angry with the entire process.

"He was mad about the whole Birmingham-Southern piece, period," Givan said. "The loan, he's mad at the House members, not really speaking to the speaker. It just got real crazy because he's Rodger Smitherman, and he thinks because he's Rodger Smitherman up in the Senate, he has all power and how dare we not approve his bill."

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