Senate passes anti-Asian hate crimes bill
The Senate on Thursday passed legislation aimed at combating a rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic in a 94-1 vote, with GOP Sen. Josh Hawley (Mo.) the only “no” vote.
The bill now goes to the House, where Democrats are expected to soon take up their version of the legislation.
Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.) said that it was “time to stand up” on anti-Asian hate crimes.
A California State University, San Bernardino study that looked at 16 cities found a 149 percent increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in 2020.
“By passing this bill we say to the Asian American community that the government is paying attention to them, has heard their concerns and will respond to protect them,” Schumer said.
“And second, by passing this bill we’ll send a message to the country that should be all too obvious by now: Hate crimes will not be tolerated,” he added.
Thursday’s vote followed days of behind-the-scenes negotiations to try to lock in support for the legislation, which needed at least 60 votes to pass.
The bill, spearheaded by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), requires the Justice Department to designate an official to review coronavirus-related hate crimes and beefs up state and local resources.
As part of a deal with Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine), Hirono changed language in the bill about what guidance the administration would be required to release. The bill initially called for guidance on the “best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language” describing the coronavirus pandemic. The final bill instead calls for guidance “aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”
Collins, saying that she enjoyed working with Hirono, urged Republicans to support the bill.
“In doing so, we can send an unmistakably strong signal that crimes targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in our country will not be tolerated,” she said.
Hirono also worked on legislation from Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) that aims to strengthen the reporting of hate crimes, offer support for hate crimes training for law enforcement and establish a hate crimes hotline.
Senators locked in a final deal on the bill late Wednesday night, allowing for votes on amendments from Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) and John Kennedy (R-La.), as well as Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah).
The Cruz-Kennedy amendment would prevent federal funding from going to colleges that “discriminated against Asian Americans in recruitment, application review or admissions.”
The Lee amendment requires the Justice Department to investigate whether coronavirus-related restrictions on religious organizations violated the First Amendment. Blackburn’s amendment, among other things, would further change the administration’s guidance so that it was about how to report hate crimes during the pandemic.
All of the GOP amendments needed 60 votes to get added to the bill. None of them got added.
Hirono, speaking before the amendment votes, predicted they would fail, saying that supporters still had “some damaging amendments to defeat.”
“The Senate is poised to take real action to confront the wave of anti-Asian hate sweeping our country,” she said. “We will send a solid message of solidarity that the Senate will not be a bystander as anti-Asian violence surges in our country.”
The Biden administration has also rolled out a series of efforts aimed at fighting anti-Asian discrimination, including a cross-agency initiative at the Department of Justice and providing nearly $50 million allocated by the recently signed economic relief bill to aid Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.