The House on Tuesday overwhelmingly voted for legislation aiming to combat violence against Asian Americans, notching a rare bipartisan victory in an effort to address the rise in discrimination against the community in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In a 364-62 vote, lawmakers easily cleared the two-thirds majority needed for final passage. While 62 members opposed it, a majority of Republicans supported the Senate-passed bill, which now heads to President Joe Biden, who is expected to sign it into law this week.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act requires Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a Justice Department official to expedite a review of reported hate crimes during the pandemic. The bill also directs DOJ to provide guidance for state and local law enforcement agencies for establishing online reporting, public education campaigns and data collection.
Photos: Violence Against Asian Americans
“The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act is a necessary steps to confront the second pandemic of racism and discrimination,” Democratic Rep. Grace Meng of New York said prior to the vote. “We cannot mend what we do not measure.”
The effort was led by Meng in the House and Democrat Mazie Hirono of Hawaii in the Senate but was reworked with help from Senate Republicans, chiefly Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, which ultimately expanded support for the legislation.
After negotiations, the current hate crimes bill was merged with another piece of bipartisan legislation that provides grants to state and local governments to use a national reporting system as well as set up state-run hate-crime reporting hotlines.
House passage comes nearly a month after the Senate easily approved the legislation in a 94-1 vote, with GOP Sen. Josh Hawley of Missouri the lone objector.
Since the pandemic hit the U.S. last year, the Asian American and Pacific Islander community has experienced an uptick in violent attacks and discrimination. Democrats and activists believe the rise in violence can be attributed in part to former President Donald Trump’s derogatory and racist rhetoric about the origin of the virus – though the legislation doesn’t mention him by name.
The bill gained more traction after a mass shooting killed eight people, including six women of Asian descent, in Georgia as well as a number of documented incidents around the country that have rippled across social media and TV networks.