ATLANTA — The Senate took a monumental step towards battling hate crimes against Asian Americans Thursday, and local leaders say it couldn't come at a more critical time.
The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act was first introduced on March 23, a week after six Asian women and two other victims were killed in the shootings that targeted three metro Atlanta spas. The measure received overwhelming support from the Senate Thursday with a 94 to 1 vote of approval.
Georgia's first Vietnamese American state representative said the spa shootings played a critical role in getting the bill to this point.
"I think it was the wake-up call for Americans that people in the [Asian American-Pacific Islander] AAPI community have been asking for," said Representative Bee Nguyen, Georgia’s 89th district.
The measure to approve the bill would direct the Department of Justice to expedite the review of hate crimes related to the pandemic. It would also direct the U.S. Attorney General and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best-practice guidance to mitigate racially discriminatory language in describing the pandemic.
U.S. Senator Raphael Warnock, who voted in favor of the measure, echoed that with a statement that said in part, "(the bill) honors the lives lost in the horrific March 16th shooting in Atlanta that spurred this necessary and urgent call to action."
The House is working through a similar version of the bill. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said it will receive a vote. The two chambers have to reconcile the bills before passing them on to President Biden.