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House approves bill to address anti-Asian hate crimes

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Washington — The House approved a bill Tuesday to address the rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed by a vote of 364 to 62, with all 62 "no" votes coming from Republicans. It was overwhelmingly approved last month by the Senate by a vote of 94 to 1. President Biden has previously expressed support for the bill, and is expected to sign it when it comes to his desk.

The legislation would direct the Justice Department to expedite the review of hate crime incidents and provide more guidance to state and local entities to make it easier to report hate crimes, as well as expand public education campaigns designed to increase awareness and outreach to victims.

The bill, sponsored by Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and New York Congresswoman Grace Meng, was introduced amid a dramatic rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the pandemic. The organization Stop AAPI Hate said last month that it had received a total of 6,603 reports of hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders between March 19, 2020, and March 31, 2021.

The vote on Tuesday also comes two months after a mass shooting in March that killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in the Atlanta area.

The bill garnered support from Senate Republicans after a round of negotiations last month. The Senate-passed legislation removed sections tying hate crimes to COVID-19, after Republicans argued that the initial bill's focus was too narrow. The bill also allows the attorney general to issue grants to state and local governments to assist them with reporting hate crimes.

"Those of Asian descent have been blamed and scapegoated for the outbreak of COVID-19," Meng told reporters in a press conference ahead of the vote on Tuesday. "And as a result, Asian Americans have been beaten, slashed, spat on, and even set on fire and killed. The Asian American community is exhausted from being forced to endure this rise in bigotry and racist attacks. Asian Americans are tired of living in fear."

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