The Senate on Thursday passed law aimed at enhancing the prosecution of federal hate crimes after a series of high-profile attacks against Asian Americans related to the coronavirus pandemic.
The 94-1 vote came after a few days of bargaining between Democrats and Republicans over amendments, paving the way for House actions that do not have to be drafted.
The Senate bill, sponsored by Senator Mazie Hirono, the Democratic Democrat of Hawaii, would require the Justice Department to quickly appoint a person to track and expedite the review of federal hate crime reports and their prosecution. This would also allow the Attorney General to provide grants to state and local law enforcement agencies to better prosecute such crimes.
“This legislation sends a double message to our Asian-American community: We will not tolerate violence and bigotry against you. And for those who perpetrate violence and bigotry, we will pursue you to the fullest extent of the law, ”said Chuck Schumer, Senate majority leader, at a press conference following the passage of the law.
The fate of the bill had been called into question earlier this week as Democrats and Republicans haggled behind the scenes over which amendments would be allowed to scrutinize. But his path to the final vote, with only Missouri Republican Josh Hawley voting against, may have been smoothed by the removal of language in the bill defining “COVID-19 hate crimes”.
In the original bill, “COVID-19 hate crimes” were defined as violent crimes motivated by “a person’s actual or perceived race, ethnicity, age, skin color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability; and a person’s actual or perceived relationship to the spread of COVID-19 by virtue of the trait, “a definition that likely includes recent high-profile attacks against Asians.
The bill eliminated that language and only referred to a pre-existing definition of hate crime in federal law. The language for expanding hate crime coverage and grants to promote coverage comes from a separate bill introduced in early April.
When asked if the legislation had gone far enough, Schumer said, “I believe this will significantly increase the prosecution of those who have committed anti-Asian violence because of the new appointee of the Justice Department.”
The bill will next go to the House, where its counterpart, sponsored by Rep. Grace Meng, a New York Democrat, has yet to vote. Meng said in a statement that she expected her bill to be presented in May during Asian-American Heritage Month.
“We’ve all heard the disgusting stories and seen the horrific videos of Asian Americans being beaten, slashed and spat on. Today the Senate said “enough is enough” and made it loud and clear that there is no place for hatred in our society, “she said.