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Missouri Republican Sen. Josh Hawley was the lone senator Thursday to oppose a bill meant to curb hate crimes against Asian Americans.
The bill passed the Senate, with broad support from both parties, by a vote of 94 to 1.
“It’s too broad. As a former prosecutor, my view is it’s dangerous to simply give the federal government open-ended authority to define a whole new class of federal hate crime incidents,” said Hawley, who served as Missouri’s attorney general for two years before joining the U.S. Senate.
The bill reflects alarm over the uptick in attacks on Asian Americans, a phenomenon many advocates blame on racist rhetoric about the COVID-19 pandemic.
The legislation, sponsored by Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono, will require the Department of Justice to “facilitate the expedited review of COVID–19 hate crimes” and partner with Department of Health and Human Services to issue a guidance on “best practices to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the COVID–19 pandemic.”
Hawley had said last week he was concerned about the data collection that would result from the legislation.
Missouri state Rep. Emily Weber, the first Asian American woman elected to the Missouri General Assembly, said in a statement she was disappointed by Hawley’s vote but not surprised.
“If there’s a dubious spotlight, you can bet Josh Hawley will do anything to be standing in the middle of it. I wish our senator would spend more time supporting strong policy like this bill to protect AAPI Americans, and less time desperately seeking attention,” said Weber, a Democrat who represents Kansas City.
Kansas Republican Sen. Roger Marshall supported the bill after opposing it last week on a procedural vote, a move that prompted backlash.
Asked about the reversal, Marshall in a statement pointed to Republican amendments that he said improved the bill. But he still questioned the bill’s overall purpose even after voting for it.
“These changes were impactful enough for me to vote in support of this final package, but this is still largely a messaging bill,” Marshall said in a statement.
Among the additions to the final bill was language from Kansas Republican Sen. Jerry Moran.
Moran’s amendment, crafted with Connecticut Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal, broadened the bill’s scope to include grants for training local law enforcement officers to identify hate crimes and to establish hate crime hot lines.
The legislation also seeks to improve national data collection on hate crimes.
“Collecting information on hate crimes across the country will help us better understand the daily threats facing racial, religious and ethnic communities in the U.S.,” Moran said in a floor speech Thursday.
“Hate crimes are unacceptable, and it’s important that state law enforcement officials have the resources to report hate crimes to the FBI to help end the senseless and targeted violence aimed at minority communities.”
Blumenthal told The Star Wednesday that the bipartisan amendment helped increase Republican support for the overall bill.
Kansas state Rep. Rui Xu, an Overland Park Democrat who criticized Marshall’s opposition to the earlier version of the bill, said he hopes the voices of constituents, particularly Asian American Kansans, played a role in his decision to support the amended version.
But Xu, who grew up in Missouri, regretted that Hawley cast the only vote against the legislation.
“We certainly would have liked to have seen him stand up against this violence and stand up for his Asian American constituents,” Xu said of Hawley. “To even have that one (opponent) does a disservice to the unity of the nation.”
Kansas City Mayor Quinton Lucas, who has become a vocal critic of Hawley in recent months, called his vote disturbing.
“Not only will this legislation work to protect Asian Americans, but all who are part of minority groups, and will help provide vital funding to local law enforcement to identify and prevent hate crimes. Sen. Hawley chose politics over protecting Missourians today,” Lucas said in an email.
The bill now heads to the U.S. House, where it is expected to pass.
The Star’s Jeanne Kuang contributed to this report.