Lawmaker votes 'no' on bipartisan Asian hate crimes bill, says it could infringe of free speech

Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., said he couldn't join with the rest of the Senate in approving an Asian hate crimes bill on Thursday because the legislation was too broad and could infringe on free speech.

In a rare move of bipartisanship, the Senate on Thursday approved by a vote of 94-1 a coronavirus hate crimes bill designed to denounce the uptick of violence against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders (AAPI) during the pandemic and give new support to federal and local law enforcement to track and combat such crimes. 

In a tweet following his "no" vote, Hawley said the legislation raises "free speech questions."

"[I]t turns the federal government into the speech police - gives government sweeping authority to decide what counts as offensive speech and then monitor it," Hawley tweeted. "Raises big free speech questions."

In a follow-up statement to Fox News, Hawley added that the language could be "dangerous."

"It’s too broad," Hawley said. "As a former prosecutor, my view is it’s dangerous to simply give the federal government open-ended authority to define a whole new class of federal hate crime incidents."

The bill's lead sponsor, Hawaii Democrat Sen. Mazie Hirono, said passing S.937 would "send a clear message of support and solidarity to the AAPI community."

Hirono worked with Maine Republican Sen. Susan Collins to amend the bill prior to the Senate’s vote and garner bipartisan support. 

The legislation would allow for additional police resources to be dedicated to the prevention of anti-Asian hate crimes by beefing up local and state reporting of the crimes and creating a new Justice Department position to review hate crimes across the U.S. 


The bill defines a COVID-19 hate crime as a violent crime that is motivated by two things: (1) the actual or perceived race or ethnicity of the person and (2) the actual or perceived relationship to the spread of COVID-19 of any person because of that characteristic.

The House is now working to pass similar legislation so the bill can be signed into law by President Biden.

The APPI community has reported a wave of new discrimination and violence since the coronavirus was first discovered in China and then spread around the globe.

Nearly 3,800 hate incidents have been reported to the group Stop AAPI Hate from the start of the pandemic in March 2020 through February of this year. The majority of reports are of verbal harassment (68.1%) and shunning of Asian Americans (20.5%), followed by physical assault (11%). 

Fox News' Caitlin McFall contributed to this report. 

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