WASHINGTON - The U.S. Senate on Thursday overwhelmingly passed new legislation aimed at bolstering efforts to combat rising anti-Asian hate crimes during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The bill would establish a new Justice Department position to expedite the review of COVID-19-related hate crimes and provide support for local law enforcement agencies to respond to anti-Asian hate violence. It also includes an amendment that improves hate crime reporting and establishes hate crime telephone hotlines. The amendment was initially introduced as the Khalid Jabara and Heather Heyer NO HATE Act, named after two high-profile victims of hate crimes in recent years.
The vote was 94 to 1. Republican Senator Josh Hawley of Missouri was the only senator to vote against the bill. Two Democratic senators and three Republicans did not vote.
The bill now heads to the House of Representatives, where it's expected to pass with wide bipartisan support. President Joe Biden has expressed support for the bill and is expected to sign it into law when it reaches his desk.
Senator Mazie K. Hirono of Hawaii, a Democrat who sponsored the bill, praised its passage.
The bill, known as the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, sends a "powerful message of solidarity to the [Asian American and Pacific Islander] community that the Senate will not be a bystander as anti-Asian violence surges in our country," Hirono said on the Senate floor before the bill's passage.
The legislation comes as hate-motivated violence aimed at Asian Americans has spiked amid the coronavirus pandemic, fueled by what civil rights advocates describe as the baseless scapegoating of Asians for the virus that originated in China.
Anti-Asian hate crimes surged by 150% in major American cities last year, according to police data compiled by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University. Meanwhile, Stop AAPI Hate, an advocacy coalition, has received more than 3,800 reports of anti-Asian hate and discrimination since the start of the pandemic.
"These statistics paint a disturbing picture of what's happening in our country, but they only quantify part of the problem," Hirono said.
That is because hate crimes are notoriously undercounted, she said.
In January, Biden issued an executive order condemning anti-Asian hate crimes during the pandemic.
Last week, the White House announced the appointment of Erika L. Moritsugu as liaison to the Asian American community.