From left: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Sen. Mazie Hirono of Hawaii, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, Rep. Grace Meng of New York.

WASHINGTON — The Senate overwhelmingly voted earlier this week to move forward with consideration of hate crimes legislation aiming to combat violence toward Asian Americans.

In a 92-6 vote, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act on Wednesday cleared a motion to proceed and opens up debate on a measure that would require Attorney General Merrick Garland to appoint a Department of Justice official to expedite a review of reported hate crimes during the coronavirus pandemic. 

The bill would also direct Garland to provide guidance for state and local law enforcement agencies for establishing online reporting, “culturally appropriate” public education campaigns and data collection.

The legislation was introduced on March 11 by Sen. Mazie K. Hirono (D-Hawaii) and Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) to address the alarming rise of hate crimes and violence targeted at Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders. 

The legislation is cosponsored by Sens. Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Bob Menendez (D-N.J.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Alex Padilla (D-Calif.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.), Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Mark Warner (D-Va.), and 55 members of the House of Representatives.

“The AAPI community is uniting to confront the epidemic of discrimination, racism and hate,” Hirono  said before the procedural vote. “Now it’s time for Congress to act.”

Hirono has described her bill as a “non-controversial” measure that encourages voluntary participation by state and local law enforcement.

The measure easily reached the 60-vote threshold to move to debate and avoid a legislative filibuster. In a divided 50-50 Senate where Democrats have a narrow advantage, the party needs at least 10 Republicans to join them to move forward on legislation.

Casting dissenting votes on the procedural motion were Sens. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Tom Cotton (R-Ark.), Roger Marshall (R-Kan.), Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Tommy Tuberville (R-Ala.).

Hirono and other members of Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus (CAPAC) leadership met on April 16 with President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris at the White House.

Biden, Harris, and the CAPAC members discussed critical issues facing the country during a productive meeting, among them Biden’s infrastructure package, presidential appointments of AAPI candidates, and immigration.

During their meeting, Biden said he was surprised at how bipartisan the vote to consider the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was. Hirono noted that while the bill has a few steps to go before a vote on passage, she is working hard to make the bill bipartisan while still retaining the intent of the bill.

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