Senate passes hate crime bill responding to wave of violence against Asian Americans

WASHINGTON — The Senate passed legislation Thursday targeting anti-Asian hate crimes after an uptick of incidents during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Lawmakers approved the measure in a 94-1 vote. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., was the only member to oppose the bill.

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono, D-Hawaii, in March, would direct the Department of Justice to expedite the review of hate crimes related to Covid-19 that were reported to law enforcement agencies and help them establish ways to report such incidents online and perform public outreach.

The bill would also direct the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best-practices guidance on how to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the pandemic.

“Racism has always existed in America unfortunately and the legacy of anti-Asian sentiment goes back centuries to dark chapters in our history, like the Chinese-exclusion act and the internment of Japanese citizens during World War II,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said on the Senate floor Thursday ahead of the vote.

“Now, we've made great strides since those days, but over the past several years the forces of hate and bigotry seem to have gained strength, too often encouraged by our former president,” he continued. “By passing this bill, the senate makes it very clear that hate and discrimination against any group has no place in America. Bigotry against one is bigotry against all.”

The vote comes after Schumer urged Republicans not to block debate on the overall legislation.

The House Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, marked up a similar version of the bill introduced by Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., on Wednesday. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said that it would receive a floor vote. The House and Senate will ultimately have to reconcile both bills so that they pass the same version that can then be signed by President Joe Biden.