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Bill to Disaggregate Asian American, Pacific Islander Data Passes New York Assembly

by Chris Fuchs /
The State Capitol Building in Albany, New York.
The State Capitol Building in Albany, New York. Arno Burgi / dpa

The New York State Assembly once again passed a bill this week that would require certain state agencies, commissions, and boards to collect and publish data on Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders.

But the annual legislative session ended in Albany late Wednesday night without the state Senate taking action on it.

The bill, sponsored by Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, a Democrat from Manhattan, calls for changing state law to include additional Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander ethnic groups in data collection that are reported by the U.S. Census.

Most New York state agencies, according to the bill, do not comply with existing state law, which already requires data collection for certain Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander ethnicities, or have not made that information accessible to the public.

Supporters of collecting and separating data by ethnicity, known as disaggregation, argue that doing so can help expose disparities among Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders in such areas as education and healthcare that might otherwise go unnoticed within this diverse group.

“We have some of the highest poverty rates, serious cultural stigmas toward mental health, and a number of health issues,” Niou told NBC News. “Data disaggregation is a critical first step to further define what the Asian-American community needs.”

Versions of Niou’s bill have been introduced before, most recently by Assemblyman Ron Kim, a Democrat from Queens, during the 2015-2016 legislative session. It too passed the Assembly and was delivered to the state Senate, though no action was taken.

Niou’s bill, of which Kim is one of the co-sponsors, would have to make it through the Republican-controlled state Senate to get onto the governor’s desk for signing. Niou did say it garnered more support from Republicans this year than in the past.

“Data disaggregation is a critical first step to further define what the Asian-American community needs.”

Controversy has followed some previous efforts elsewhere to pass measures legislating data disaggregation. California Gov. Jerry Brown, a Democrat, signed a bill into law in September requiring that its state Department of Public Health break down data collected by ethnicity or ancestry for Native Hawaiian, Asian, and Pacific Islander groups.

But Brown vetoed similar legislation in 2015, writing at the time that “dividing people into ethnic or other subcategories may yield more information, but not necessarily greater wisdom about what actions should follow."

In the bill that became law, language was removed that would’ve asked or required public universities and colleges to disaggregate data. That move came amid protests from some in the Chinese-American community who saw the bill as a backdoor attempt to revive affirmative action in the state, a charge supporters of the legislation denied.

California eliminated race-based admissions at its public universities and colleges following the passage of Proposition 209 in 1996.

Opponents of the California disaggregation legislation also complained that it addressed only Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, and not other groups.

RELATED: California Data Disaggregation Bill Sparks Debate in Asian-American Community

Niou said she hasn’t seen that kind of opposition to the bill in New York State, where roughly 9 percent of the population is Asian American, Native Hawaiian, and Pacific Islander, according to the U.S. Census.

Niou’s bill requires state agencies to collect data for Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Korean, Vietnamese, Asian Indian, Laotian, Cambodian, Bangladeshi, Hmong, Indonesian, Malaysian, Pakistani, Sri Lankan, Taiwanese, Nepalese, Burmese, Tibetan, and Thai.

Pacific Islander groups covered include Hawaiian, Guamanian, Samoan, Fijian, and Tongan.

“Government resources should be used efficiently to help those who need it the most,” Niou said. “Better data means better service for our communities.”

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