U.S. House passes bill to curb anti-Asian hate crimes, sends it to Biden

Atlanta police officers and detectives respond to a crime scene at Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa, both located in the 1900 block of Piedmont Road NE in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)
Caption
Atlanta police officers and detectives respond to a crime scene at Aromatherapy Spa and Gold Spa, both located in the 1900 block of Piedmont Road NE in Atlanta, Tuesday, March 16, 2021. (Alyssa Pointer/Atlanta Journal-Constitution/TNS)

Credit: TNS

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House signed off on legislation that would create tools for law enforcement agencies in hopes of reducing crimes and assaults targeting Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

The bill gained new attention after Atlanta-area spa shootings in March killed six women of Asian descent. The Senate has already approved the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, and President Joe Biden has said he will sign it into law soon after it lands on his desk. That could happen as early as Thursday.

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The bill passed the U.S. House on a bipartisan 364-62 vote. All six Democratic members of Georgia’s congressional delegation were in favor, as well as two of eight Republicans, U.S. Reps. Drew Ferguson and Austin Scott.

Georgia Republicans Rick Allen, Andrew Clyde, Marjorie Taylor Greene, Jody Hice and Barry Loudermilk voted “no.”

During debate on the bill, S. 937, Georgia U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath said it provides additional tools to address hate crimes and particularly those targeting people of Asian descent.

“The past year has been one of the most difficult periods in our nation’s history, and for some of our fellow Americans the pandemic has also resulted in an alarming uptick of racially based hate crimes,” the Marietta Democrat said. “Racism, bigotry and discrimination have no place in our communities. We must do our part to help stop all forms of violence here in America and all over the world.”

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta, said after the vote that she hopes the measure helps prevent future incidents.

“Thousands of hate crimes have been documented in every state over the last year,” she said. “Tragically, that number includes the March 16 Atlanta spa shootings where eight people, primarily of Asian descent, were killed.”

Republicans who spoke out against the bill said that it was well-intended but excessive in its calls for new crime reporting hotlines, data collections by law enforcement and grants to improve training for officers responding to hate-crimes incidents.

Texas U.S. Rep. Chip Roy said it was also unnecessary for the Atlanta spa shooting to be referenced as a catalyst for the bill since the accused gunman allegedly told law enforcement that race was not a motivating factor.

“I think we do our nation a disservice when we spend every waking moment on this floor divvying us up by race, and increasingly that’s what we’re doing,” he said.

Fulton County prosecutors said they plan to seek the death penalty and pursue hate-crime charges against the shooter on the account that Asian businesses were targeted, resulting in the deaths of the six women of Asian descent.

Clyde, from Athens, said he voted against the bill because he does not believe hate-crimes laws are needed in general.

“A crime is a crime,” he said. “If someone commits a crime, then punish them for the crime they’ve committed.”

Clyde did not respond to follow-up questions about whether he would also oppose laws that targeted crimes against people based on their religion, sexuality or occupation.

The House on Tuesday also debated, but did not vote on, a separate resolution that condemns the spa attacks and provides a brief tribute to all eight victims. The bill, H.R. 275, frames the spa shootings within the context of anti-Asian hate in America and notes that six women of Asian descent were among the dead.

This bill, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Judy Chu, D-California, has 116 Democratic co-sponsors, including all six from Georgia: McBath, Williams and U.S. Reps. Sanford Bishop, Carolyn Bourdeaux, David Scott and Hank Johnson.

A vote on this legislation is scheduled for Wednesday.

HOW THEY VOTED ON S. 937, the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act

“Yes”

U.S. Rep. Sanford Bishop, D-Albany

U.S. Rep. Carolyn Bourdeaux, D-Suwanee

U.S. Rep. Drew Ferguson, R-West Point

U.S. Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Lithonia

U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Marietta

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Tifton

U.S. Rep. David Scott, D-Atlanta

U.S. Rep. Nikema Williams, D-Atlanta

“No”

U.S. Rep. Rick Allen, R-Evans

U.S. Rep. Andrew Clyde, R-Athens

U.S. Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Rome

U.S. Rep. Jody Hice, R-Greensboro

U.S. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Cassville

Did Not Vote

U.S. Rep. Buddy Carter, R-Pooler