Senate Passes Bill Seeking To Address Hate Crimes Against Asian Americans

2021-04-22 13:31:29

The Senate on Thursday passed a bill to address the rise in hate incidents and violence against Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic ― a rare show of bipartisanship on an issue that gained fresh urgency after a series of shootings at Atlanta-area spas last month. 

The legislation, introduced by Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.), would expedite a federal review of coronavirus-related hate crimes, expand data collection and public reporting of such incidents, and provide guidance on best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID-19 pandemic.

It passed 94-1 after Hirono accepted proposed changes from Republican senators, including Susan Collins of Maine and Chuck Grassley of Iowa. 

The bill would also provide funding to train law enforcement on investigating hate incidents, create a hate crimes hotline, and establish programs to rehabilitate perpetrators — all proposed in an amendment by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and Jerry Moran (R-Kansas). 

Hirono, the first Asian American woman elected to the Senate, blamed former President Donald Trump for fueling the rise in hate incidents against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders by repeatedly referring to the COVID-19 virus as a “China virus” and the “kung flu.” Hirono said she could relate to other Americans fearing for their safety amid the uptick in hate crimes. 

“Before, if I was walking around outside, I would have my earbuds on, listening to books on tape … I would never do that now,” Hirono told reporters earlier this month.

There was initially some uncertainty about Republican support for the bill. Several GOP senators expressed concerns about its definition of hate crimes being “too broad,” saying that it could result in unintended consequences during court sentencing. Others believed the measure mandated too much federal data collection on private citizens.

Progressives were watching closely to see whether Hirono’s legislation would become the first to fall to the filibuster under the new Democratic-controlled Senate. If Republicans did block it, advocates of eliminating the chamber’s long-standing two-thirds vote requirement on legislation would have gained even more ammo to go nuclear and eliminate the filibuster. That consideration may have also crossed the minds of some GOP senators.

But to filibuster opponents, one bill that passes with bipartisan support doesn’t discount the urgency to eliminate the filibuster given fierce GOP opposition to many other top Democratic priorities such as voting rights, climate change, gun control and immigration.

“The fundamental reality remains the same: that unless Democrats eliminate the filibuster, they have no chance of passing some of their top priorities,” said Eli Zupnick, a spokesperson for Fix Our Senate, a group dedicated to ending the Senate filibuster. “It’s great that Sen. McConnell is allowing some bills to get done, but nobody should be under any illusions that this means the Senate is working well.” 

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