The Senate voted 94-1 Thursday to approve anti-Asian hate crimes legislation aimed at expanding the federal government's efforts to address the recent rise in these crimes.
The bill would identify a point person at the Justice Department who would quickly review hate crime incidents and provide more guidance to state and local entities to make it easier to report hate crimes. The legislation would also expand public education campaigns designed to increase awareness and outreach to victims.
Introduced by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and New York Congresswoman Grace Meng, the legislation comes amid an increase in anti-Asian crimes in the past year. The Senate vote took place over a month after a mass shooting that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in the Atlanta area.
In a press conference after the bill's passage, Hirono and Democratic Senator Tammy Duckworth, of Illinois, said the bill sends a strong signal of support to the AAPI community. Duckworth told reporters that her 80-year old mother recently went to a grocery store to try to buy grapes and was hassled by a grocery store clerk.
"This bill will allow me to go home and tell my mom, 'We did something about it,'" Duckworth said.
"This [bill] tells the AAPI community we see you, and we will stand with you and we will protect you," Duckworth added.
President Biden called on Congress to pass the bill in March and in a meeting with the Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus earlier this month, he said he and Vice President Kamala Harris were "heartened" by the overwhelmingly bipartisan vote to advance the legislation.
The measure included input from several Republican senators, including language that stripped tying anti-Asian hate crimes to COVID-19. Hirono and Republican Senator Susan Collins of Maine announced on Wednesday they had reached an agreement on language that removes sections related to COVID-19 but still makes explicit that it refers to the AAPI community. The legislation incorporated language from the Jabara-Heyer No Hate Act, proposed by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal, of Connecticut, and Republican Senator Jerry Moran, of Kansas, that would allow the attorney general to issue grants to state and local governments to assist them with reporting hate crimes.
Before the vote, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said passage of the bill would send a message to the AAPI community and the country that hate will not be tolerated.
"This long overdue bill sends two messages. To our Asian American friends, we will not tolerate bigotry against you," Schumer said on the Senate floor. "And to those perpetrating anti-Aisan bigotry, we will pursue you to the fullest extent of the law."
The Senate also voted on three Republican amendments to the bill, but they all failed. The bill will now head to the House for approval.
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