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The US Senate has overwhelmingly passed a bill that would help combat the rise of hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, marking a bipartisan denunciation of the violence that has come into sharp focus during the coronavirus pandemic.
The Senate passed the anti-Asian hate crimes bill on Thursday in a vote of 94 to 1, after the Democrat Mazie Hirono worked with some of her Republican colleagues to ensure bipartisan support for the legislation.
Josh Hawley, a Republican of Missouri, was the only senator to vote against the bill.
The bill now heads to the Democratic-controlled House, where it is expected to pass. Joe Biden has signaled he will sign the bill once it reaches his desk.
The legislation would create a new justice department position to more quickly review hate crime reports linked to the coronavirus pandemic and provide support to state and local officials responding to hate crimes.
The Senate passage of the bill comes amid an alarming increase in reports of hate crimes among Asian Americans. The shooting at three spas in Atlanta last month killed eight people, including six Asian women, intensifying calls to address the problem.
A major survey by Stop AAPI Hate released in March found that Asian Americans had reported nearly 3,800 hate-related incidents during the pandemic, a number that is believed to be only a fraction of the true total.
“This long-overdue bill sends two messages. To our Asian American friends, we will not tolerate bigotry against you,” the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer, said. “And to those perpetrating anti-Asian bigotry, we will pursue you to the fullest extent of the law.”
Hirono, of Hawaii, the legislation’s lead sponsor, said the measure was incredibly important to Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders, “who have often felt very invisible in our country, always seen as foreign, always seen as the other”. She said the message of the legislation was as important as its content and substance.
Hirono, the first Asian American woman in the Senate, said the attacks were “a predictable and foreseeable consequence” of racist and inflammatory language that has been used against Asians during the pandemic, including slurs used by Donald Trump.
Republicans said last week that they agreed with the premise of the legislation and signaled they were willing to back it with minor changes. Hirono worked closely with Senator Susan Collins, of Maine, to incorporate some additional Republican and bipartisan provisions, including better reporting of hate crimes nationally and grant money for states to set up hate crime hotlines.
The revised bill would also replace language in the original legislation that called for “guidance describing best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the Covid-19 pandemic”. The legislation would require the government to issue guidance aimed at “raising awareness of hate crimes during the pandemic” to address some GOP concerns about policing speech.
Republicans agreed to back the bill after the Senate also voted on and rejected a series of GOP amendments, including efforts to prevent discrimination against Asian Americans in college admissions and to require reporting about restrictions on religious exercise during the pandemic.
Representative Grace Meng, a Democrat of New York, introduced a similar bill in the House, which she says is expected to be considered in May.
“For more than a year, Asian Americans all across our nation have been screaming out for help,” Meng said, and the Senate showed that “they heard our pleas”.