Senate aims to pass anti-Asian hate crimes bill this week

Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)
Greg Nash

The Senate is working to wrap up an anti-Asian hate crimes bill this week as senators near a deal on changes to the legislation.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), will likely come up for a vote as early as Wednesday, a Senate Democratic aide confirmed to The Hill. 

“I’m optimistic we can finish our work on the anti-Asian hate crimes bill later this week in the same manner we started it, with an overwhelming bipartisan vote. And let me say it’s needed,” Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said from the Senate floor on Monday. 

The looming agreement comes amid an increase in hate crimes against the Asian American community, putting pressure on Congress to act. Six women of Asian descent were among the eight people killed during a spree of shootings in Georgia last month.

And a study by California State University, San Bernardino, which looked at 16 cities, found a 149 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans, even though overall hate crimes dropped by 7 percent in 2020. 

The bill from Hirono and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) requires the Justice Department to designate an official to review coronavirus-related hate crimes, beefs up state and local resources, and has the administration offer guidance on “best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language” describing the coronavirus pandemic. 

Senators for days have been negotiating an agreement on potential changes to the bill after leaving town late last week without a deal hashed out.  

Passing the bill could also help alleviate some of the tension around the Senate filibuster. Republicans allowed the bill to advance over an initial procedural hurdle last week instead of blocking it on the front end after Democrats vowed to allow amendments.   

Schumer said that the Senate will vote on bipartisan changes to Hirono’s bill this week. 

“All of these ideas will be incorporated into a broader final substitute amendment. I will ensure the Senate votes on the substitute amendment in the coming days,” Schumer said. “We’re seeing that when the Senate is given the opportunity to work, the Senate can work.” 

The Senate is expected to add legislation from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas) that aims to strengthen the reporting of hate crimes, offer support for hate crimes training for law enforcement and establish a hate crimes hotline.  

Hirono has also crafted an amendment with GOP Sen. Susan Collins (Maine) that would give the Justice Department seven days to designate the official responsible for overseeing the review instead of the one day in Hirono’s initial legislation.  

It also changes the language on the guidance that the administration would have to provide. Among other changes, Hirono’s initial bill required guidance “describing best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic.”  

The Hirono-Collins amendment would replace that with guidance “aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Hirono also previously told reporters that she was working with Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). A spokesperson for Hirono didn’t immediately respond to a question about if additional changes were forthcoming.  

Schumer said that they would also work in language crafted with Sen. Raphael Warnock (D-Ga.) to reference the Georgia shootings. 

Republicans have filed dozens of amendments to the bill, some of which aren’t related to hate crimes or the coronavirus. 

“A lot of them have nothing to do with the purpose of the bill,” Hirono told reporters late last week. 

“One is if you think that you’re going to be the victim of a hate crime, you can conceal and carry a gun, and then no state can prevent you from doing that. That would be not good because the state of Hawaii does not allow conceal and carry, so that is a non-starter amendment, as far as I’m concerned,” she added as an example. 

Updated at 4:05 p.m.

Tags anti-Asian hate crimes Charles Schumer Chuck Grassley Grace Meng Hate crimes Jerry Moran Mazie Hirono Raphael Warnock Susan Collins
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