Sen. Mazie Hirono
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-HI) speaks at a news conference following a Senate Democratic policy luncheon on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, April 20, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Kent Nishimura/Los Angeles Times/Shutterstock)

Senate Moves Closer to Passing Anti-Asian Hate Crimes Bill

After more than a week of debate and negotiation between Republicans and Democrats, the Senate appears to have neared a deal on anti-Asian hate crime legislation which could now go up for a vote for approval as early as today, April 22.

Jordain Carney of The Hill has reported that the bill “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.”

“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,” said Sen. Charles Schumer of New York from the floor of the Senate on April 19.

According to Carney, “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 [in March 2021].”

A recent study from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, found a 149% increase in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans in the 16 largest U.S. cities. The researchers noted that this spike occurred despite an overall drop in hate crimes across the country by 7% in 2020.

The latest version of the bill, which was originally introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Rep. Grace Meng of New York, includes a number of changes and amendments from both parties, making it a truly bipartisan measure in many ways. 

“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.” 

Among the changes made to the bill since its introduction, Sens. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Jerry Moran of Kansas have introduced language 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 also added to her own original bill, working with Sen. Susan Collins of Maine on an amendment “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.”

Carney also reported that Hirono and Collins added hate crimes education to the bill specifically “aimed at raising awareness of hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

While both Republicans and Democrats are working together on the final bill, Carney added that the process still hasn’t gone smoothly, saying “Republicans have filed dozens of amendments to the bill, some of which aren’t related to hate crimes or the coronavirus.”

Addressing some of those amendments to reporters in a press conference last week, Hirono said, “a lot of them have nothing to do with the purpose of the bill.” Hirono described one erroneously proposed amendment that would allow someone to carry a concealed weapon if they were concerned about being a hate crime victim, regardless of state gun laws.

“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,” Hirono said.

(Update – 3:17 p.m.: CNN reports that the anti-Asian hate crimes bill overwhelmingly passed with a vote of 94-1. The lone vote in opposition was from Josh Hawley, Republican Senator from Missouri)

Related: For more recent diversity and inclusion news, click here.

 

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