The House of Representatives has passed the “For the People Act of 2021.” If that title sounds pompous but uninformative as to the nature of the bill, that may have been the intent of the authors. Among its stated purposes is “fortifying our democracy” and “to strengthen ethics rules for public servants.”
Creating a New Federal Holiday
Its main purpose appears to be setting up federal rules for elections and to override the election requirements set by individual states.
For federal employees, one of the main points of interest may be creating the benefit of a new federal holiday. Section 1909 of the bill is entitled “Election Day As Legal Public Holiday.” Unlike the title of the bill, this title does what the title implies. It creates a new federal holiday on election day.
Are federal employees apt to receive a new federal employee holiday in 2022?
That may be the case.
Federal Employee Holidays
The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) states: “Federal law (5 U.S.C. 6103) establishes the public holidays listed in these pages for Federal employees.”
Federal employees currently receive as many as 11 days off of work, with pay, as holidays. Occasionally, an additional day is added by the president for Christmas Eve.
Some employees still have to go to work depending on their job and if their agency thinks they cannot be spared to take the day off. Also, the number of holidays may vary according to when the holiday is actually observed. Inauguration day is a holiday for federal employees in the Washington, DC area and is not provided to federal employees in other locations.
Regularly scheduled full-time and part-time employees who work a holiday earn holiday premium pay for all non-overtime hours up to 8 hours.
Here is a listing of federal employee holidays for 2021.
|Friday, January 1||New Year’s Day|
|Monday, January 18||Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.|
|Wednesday, January 20||Inauguration Day|
|Monday, February 15||Washington’s Birthday|
|Monday, May 31||Memorial Day|
|Monday, July 5||Independence Day|
|Monday, September 6||Labor Day|
|Monday, October 11||Columbus Day|
|Thursday, November 11||Veterans Day|
|Thursday, November 25||Thanksgiving Day|
|Friday, December 24||Christmas Day|
A New Holiday in 2022?
The new holiday for federal employees was reportedly not in the published versions of H.R. 1. Instead, the holiday was inside a long document referred to as a “Manager’s Amendment” to H.R. 1. The Manager’s Amendment contains this language:
(a) IN GENERAL.—Section 6103(a) of title 5, United States Code, is amended by inserting after the item relating to Columbus Day the following:
‘‘Election Day, the Tuesday next after the first Monday in November of every even-numbered year.’’.
H.R. 1 would establish election day as a national holiday every two years. As with most other holidays, some other Americans, as well as federal employees, would also have the day off. Most likely local governments, banks, and some companies would follow suit and provide a day off with pay on election day for their employees as well.
It is more likely we can anticipate many businesses celebrating the new holiday with “election day sales” for new cars, mattresses, and furniture rather than just having an additional eight hours with pay to go to the polls and cast a ballot.
The new holiday would seem unnecessary as the law would also require early voting for 15 days prior to election day, for “no less than 10 hours” each day, and to allow any individual to cast a ballot for any reason by absentee ballot by mail.
But, as often happens in Congress, the reason for the new holiday may be based on a political calculation. In this case, Congress is giving the voting population a reason to want to think favorably about those who vote in favor of the bill and who want to retain their elected positions.
The bill is considered a “must” for Democrats in the current Congress. Former Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) apparently sees it that way as well. His observation on the bill when it was proposed last year: “They’re trying to clothe this power grab with cliches about ‘restoring democracy’ and doing it ‘For the People,’ but their proposal is simply a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party.”
Depending on a person’s political view, the bill may be good for the country or a power grab for one political party. In either case, the obvious advantage for most federal employees is another paid holiday.
Why A Proposal for a New Federal Holiday?
Not to be too cynical, but one observation may be that the new holiday is designed to encourage federal employees to vote for Democrats. Federal employee unions and federal employee donations go to Democrats in an overwhelming margin. Some, such as Senator McConnell, views the change as an attempt to corral more votes for Democrats by encouraging some of the two million+ federal employees to use the new holiday to go to the polls and vote for the candidates of their choice.
Senator McConnell said this last year with regard to last year’s version of this bill: “Just what America needs, another paid holiday and a bunch of government workers being paid to go out and work for I assume… our colleagues on the other side, on their campaigns.”
“This paid-time-off election perk is estimated to cost taxpayers around $818 million every other year, or at least $4 billion over the next 10 years. That is, if the U.S. Senate passes the bill and it’s signed into law by President Joseph Biden.
In the highly partisan political atmosphere that exists today, this bill is likely to be one that receives votes for or against it on party lines. Democrats are likely to all support the bill in the Senate. Republicans are likely to all vote against it.
This may mean it has a reasonable chance of passage as the Senate is split 50-50 and the vice-president can cast a deciding vote.
In any event, FedSmith will advise readers if and when the bill passes into law and if federal employees will receive a new paid holiday in 2022.