WASHINGTON – The Senate passed with overwhelming bipartisan support an anti-hate crime bill to address a drastic increase of violence and discrimination directed at Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act cleared the chamber in a 94-1 vote. It would expedite the Justice Department’s review of hate crimes andwould designate an official at DOJ to oversee the effort.
It also would task the department with coordinating with local law enforcement groups and community-based organizations to facilitate and raise awareness about hate crime reporting,including establishing an online hate crime reporting system in multiple languages.
The legislation, which now heads to the Democratic-led House, is one of the few bills to pass this Senate with support from both Republicans and Democrats. Many Democrats expected a legislative fight, but Republicans signaled early their willingness to compromise on the legislation, and senators from both parties have been negotiating for weeks.
Theexpanded legislation, spearheaded by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii,underwent several bipartisan changes before its final passage.
Speaking from the Senate floor Thursday, Hirono said that by passing the bill “We will send a powerful message of solidarity to the AAPI community that the Senate won’t be a bystander as anti-Asian violence surges in our country.”
“The vote today on the Anti-Asian Hate Crimes bill is proof that when the Senate is given the opportunity to work, the Senate can work to solve important issues,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said from the Senate floor, ahead of the bill’s passage.
More:In bipartisan vote, Senate advances bill on hate crimes against Asian Americans
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said last week that as the “proud husband of an Asian American woman, I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem.” McConnell is the husband to Elaine Chao, the former transportation secretary who was born in Taiwan.
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One addition to the bill from Sens. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Jerry Moran, R-Kan., would establish grants to aid local and state governments to encourage more training on hate crimes for law enforcement, establish hate crime hotlines and allow for a “rehabilitation” effort for perpetrators of hate crimes.
The bill still needs to pass the House to make it to President Joe Biden’s desk. It was going to be debated in the House Judiciary Committee on Tuesday, but Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., postponed that discussion until the Senate voted, meaning the legislation is unlikely to go to a full House vote for at least a few weeks.
“Addressing AAPI hate crimes remains a top priority for House Democrats. We are closely monitoring Senate deliberations, and we will take action on this issue soon,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said.
For more than a year, reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans have climbed.
Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy group tracking hate incidents, said it had received nearly 3,800 reports of hate incidents across the country since March 2020, compared with roughly 100 incidents annually in previous years. It tracked 987 in the first two months of 2021.
In the wake of last month’s mass shooting in Atlanta that killed eight people – six of whom were women of Asian descent – lawmakers in both chambers of Congress pushed to expedite passage of the legislation, and called for quick action.
Another modification made to the legislation, as part of talks with Sen. Raphael Warnock, D-Ga., includesadding the names of those eight people killed in the legislation.
More:Democrats work behind the scenes — and in public eye — to push against anti-Asian hate
Asian American lawmakers introduced legislation addressing the issue in the last Congress, but other than the House’s passage of a nonbinding resolution condemning anti-Asian bigotry and discrimination during the COVID-19 pandemic, no legislation was signed into law.
Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., a co-author of the legislation, said at a rally with Schumer on Monday that “we are finally taking action in Congress” after a year of discrimination that has made many in the AAPI community afraid to use public transit, or even leave their homes.
The legislation is supported by Biden and the White House, with the president saying in March, “It’s time for Congress to codify and expand upon these actions — because every person in our nation deserves to live their lives with safety, dignity and respect.”