Senate Advances Bill to Combat Attacks Against Asian-Americans

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The U.S. Senate on Wednesday easily advanced a bill designed to combat hate crimes against Asian-Americans in a bipartisan response to a wave of attacks since the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

The Senate voted 92-6 to move forward on the legislation, which lawmakers of both parties say they want to expand and strengthen before likely approval as soon as Thursday.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer said the bill would address “an awful rising tide” of attacks on Asian-Americans and Pacific Islanders. He said he will offer a bipartisan amendment to the bill that would addresses hate crimes more broadly by providing more training for law enforcement and funding a hotline to report assaults. Other amendments could be considered as well.

The legislation would direct the Justice Department to designate an official to speed review of Covid-19-related hate crimes of Asian Americans reported to federal, state or local officials and call on the department to coordinate with state and local law enforcement agencies to establish online reporting of hate crimes and expand public education campaigns to prevent attacks.

Its lead sponsors, including Democratic senators Mazie Hirono of Hawaii and Tammy Duckworth of Illinois, said it was prompted sparked by a wave of attacks on Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders over the past year. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Tuesday said he would support bringing it up with opportunities to change it to alter the thrust of the legislation.

Schumer will first try to attach a bipartisan piece of legislation that addresses hate crimes more broadly by streamlining reporting systems used by law enforcement, providing grants to better train law enforcement on probing possible hate crimes and creating a hate crimes hotline. That legislation was introduced days ago by Democratic Senator Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut and Republican Senator Jerry Moran of Kansas.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the House would begin work on its own hate crimes legislation next week, and that negotiators will iron out changes before sending a final bill to President Joe Biden. Biden called on Congress to pass hate crimes legislation after last month’s shootings by a white gunman at three Atlanta-area spas that left eight people dead. The victims included six women of Asian descent.

Backers of the bill cited the language of former President Donald Trump and some of his allies, who routinely called Covid-19 the “Chinese virus” or the “Wuhan Virus” because of its origins, for inflaming prejudice that led to violence.

An estimated 3,800 hate crime incidents against people of Asian descent were recorded between March 19, 2020 -- around when lock downs started -- and Feb. 28, 2021, according to the tracking initiative Stop AAPI Hate. Most were verbal harassment and shunning, but 11% of them were instances of physical assault.

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