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Federal bill aimed at fighting anti-Asian hate could help track hate crimes in Washington

Congress passed the COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act, which is aimed at combating hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders.

SEATTLE — A bill to combat hate crimes against Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders is headed to President Joe Biden's desk and advocates in western Washington say this is a step towards addressing hate. 

The COVID-19 Hate Crimes Act passed the House Tuesday with a 364 to 62 vote. The legislation passed the Senate 94 to 1 last month. 

"It sends a clear message that our government cares about the rising acts of violence, discrimination and hatred against Asian Americans," said former Washington Gov. Gary Locke, who was also the first Chinese-American governor in U.S. history. 

The bill directs the Department of Justice to expedite coronavirus related hate crimes as well help law enforcement establish ways to make it easier for people to report such crimes.

"When we have good data, we're able to make better policy decisions around hate crimes. So what this bill in particular does is it tracks hate crimes more effectively, it gives more resources to local municipalities on tracking hate in their communities, and in turn, we'll get a better picture of what hate in our communities look like," said Kendall Kosai, Board of Director for Organization of Chinese Americans, Greater Seattle Chapter. 

Kosai said right now it's unknow how many hate crimes happen because they're often underreported. 

"What we do know is that hate incidents in the Asian American community are severely underreported because of a number of issues, language barriers, cultural barriers, just general distrust of law enforcement," said Kosai. 

A key requirement of the bill is for the attorney general and the Department of Health and Human Services to issue best-practices guidance for how to describe the pandemic without using racially discriminatory language.

"It starts [with] our highest elected leaders in our country using responsible rhetoric. Over the last year, we have seen our elected leaders use derogatory language toward the community," said Kosai, "It's really important that we're really conscious about what kind of unintended consequences things may have."

A spokesperson for the White House said President Biden, "looks forward to signing this important legislation into law at the White House later this week."

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