The Senate voted 94-1 on Thursday to pass legislation that aimed at preventing rising violence and discrimination against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-MO) was the only senator who voted against the bill.
The bipartisan vote comes amid national pressure to take action against the rise in anti-Asian attacks, particularly in the wake of a shooting in Atlanta in which eight people, including six Asian women, were killed.
The bill’s passage sends a “solid message of solidarity that the Senate will not be a bystander as anti-Asian violence surges in our country,” said Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), the bill’s lead Senate sponsor.
The nonprofit group, Stop AAPI Hate, reported almost 3,800 incidents involving physical assault, shunning, verbal and online harassment and civil rights violations were committed against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in the United States since March 2020.
The bill, titled the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, was first introduced in February by Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI) and Representative Grace Meng (D-NY). Under the legislation, the Department of Justice must expedite examination of COVID-19-related hate crimes, as well as improve public reporting for the remainder of the health crisis.
“This long overdue bill sends two messages: to our Asian American friends, we will not tolerate bigotry against you, and to those perpetrating anti-Asian bigotry, we will pursue you to the fullest extent of the law,” Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said in floor remarks shortly before the vote Thursday. “We cannot — we cannot allow the recent tide of bigotry, intolerance and prejudice against Asian Americans go unchecked.”
“By passing this bill, we tell our law enforcement agency to prioritize anti-Asian violence, and wield the sword to detect, deter and prosecute, hate crimes of all variety. We send a clear message, a unified message that hate has no place in America,” he continued.
Analysis from the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino in March last year revealed a 149% rise in hate crimes against Asian Americans across the 16 cities it examined.
President Joe Biden urged Congress to quickly pass legislation addressing the issue and early support from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) helped establish the bipartisan support.
“I can tell you as a proud husband of an Asian American woman — I think this discrimination against Asian Americans is a real problem,” McConnell said Tuesday. “It preceded the murders that were recently on full display. I’m hoping we can work out an agreement to get on the bill in a normal way, have some amendments, and move forward to final passage.”