WASHINGTON, D.C. – The U.S. Senate overwhelmingly passed a bill Thursday that aims to combat the rise in anti-Asian hate related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed in the Senate in a bipartisan way, which is a rarity for the chamber of Congress as of late. The vote was 94-1, with the sole vote against from Republican Sen. Josh Hawley.
The bill, introduced last month by U.S. Rep. Grace Meng and Sen. Mazie Hirono, would create a position at the Department of Justice to facilitate an expedited review of COVID-19 hate crimes, encourage more reporting of incidents in multiple languages, and help make different communities feel more empowered to come forward and report these incidents.
Among other things, the legislation would also direct federal agencies to work with community-based organizations to raise awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic.
The Senate’s passage of the bill comes as hate crimes against the Asian American and Pacific Islander (AAPI) community are on the rise. There has been a renewed interest in addressing the problem, which some tie to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Many called for action after multiple spas owned by Asian Americans were targeted by a shooter in the Atlanta area last month. In those shootings, eight people were killed, including six Asian women.
That attacks and many others over the past year have put the AAPI community on edge.
“Today, the Senate said enough is enough, and underscored loud and clear that there is no place for hate anywhere in our society,” wrote Meng in a statement. “More reporting of hate crimes will provide us with increased data and a more accurate picture of the attacks that have been occurring against those of Asian descent, and a more centralized and unified way of reviewing these crimes would help to address the problem in a more effective manner.”
Next, the U.S. House is expected to take up the bill in May, where it will likely be approved by the Democrats in control before being sent to President Joe Biden’s desk for his signature. He has voiced his support for the measure.