Senate passes bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans

The Senate passed a bill Thursday designed to curb a spike in hate crimes targeting Asian Americans during the coronavirus pandemic.

The chamber approved the measure in a 94-1 vote, with Republican Josh Hawley of Missouri the only senator to oppose it. The legislation will head to the Democratic-held House. Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has backed the bill, and President Joe Biden has signaled he would sign it into law.

The proposal would instruct the Justice Department to expedite the review of hate crimes related to Covid-19. It also would give state and local law enforcement more resources to track the incidents and send guidance on how to root out discriminatory language used to describe the pandemic.

“The AAPI community is being targeted for hate crimes and other incidents and the Congress needs to stand up to condemn these kinds of actions,” Sen. Mazie Hirono, a Hawaii Democrat and co-author of the bill, told CNBC on Wednesday ahead of its passage.

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The bill passed with nearly unanimous support in the Democratic-held Senate after approval of bipartisan amendments.

The legislation marks the most concrete action Congress has taken to respond to a rise in violence and harassment directed toward Asian Americans since the pandemic started last year. It followed an increase in racist rhetoric directed toward China over the origins of the virus — including from former President Donald Trump and his allies on Capitol Hill.

Anti-Asian hate crimes jumped by about 150% last year in 16 of the largest U.S. cities, according to a study released last month by the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino.

Hirono, who wrote the bill with Rep. Grace Meng, D-N.Y., has spoken about her own fear of violence. Earlier this month, she said she no longer feels comfortable walking while listening to an audiobook on her headphones.

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