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After backlash, panel seeks to collect data on all ethnic groups, not just Asian-Americans

Lawmakers have scrapped a bill that would have categorized Asian-Americans by ethnicity in state data and, instead, created new legislation that would look into acquiring demographic information on all racial groups.

The Joint Committee on State Administration and Regulatory Oversight voted Wednesday to create a special commission to “investigate and study” the feasibility and impact of directing state agencies to collect disaggregated demographic data for all ethnic groups, as defined by the US Census Bureau.

The decision was in response to a measure proposed by Representative Tackey Chan, a Quincy Democrat, whose original bill asked all state agencies to document specific data on Massachusetts residents from China, Vietnam, Korea, Japan, the Philippines, and other parts of Asia. Chan had argued that such data would help advocates and lawmakers better target health care, education, and cultural programming to specific groups of Asian-Americans.


But the proposal has met stiff opposition and rancor from people who say it would create a registry of Asian-Americans akin to a Nazi death list.

Chan, in a statement, praised the special commission, saying it is “an important step forward that will ensure that no community is left behind.”

He said he had filed the now-defunct bill with “placeholder language” to start a conversation at the State House about a critical issue.

“We have heard the concerns that have been voiced in recent months, and will work diligently to address them in the next iteration of the bill,’’ Chan said. “As a Chinese American, I am intimately connected to the issue at hand and want to make it clear that I would never target or harm my own or any other community.”

Some skeptics said they were pleased.

“I think this is a good decision — to study the benefits, the costs, the risks, and the harm,’’ said Ye Pogue, a Brandeis University doctoral student.


She said Chan, born and raised in Quincy, did not appear to relate to the hard and perilous experiences of immigrants from parts of China and Cambodia. Those immigrants still carry a deep distrust of government and many of them, Ye said, have been re-traumatized by what they view as hard-line immigration polices of the Trump administration.

She said she has no problems with various organizations and individuals collecting such data, but thinks the government should stay out of it. She said she supports the panel.

In explaining the House panel’s decision, state Representative Jennifer Benson, Democrat of Lunenbug, said she was “disappointed at the vitriol aimed at” Chan and members of the committee.

“It was inappropriate and damaging to this process,’’ she added. “I am appreciative of those who conducted themselves with civility while delivering passionate testimony.”

Still, she said she had concerns about the original legislation from the start, but argued every bill deserves a thorough hearing.

According to Benson’s office, the commission would have 11 members, including legislators, officials from Governor Charlie Baker’s advisory commissions, and appointees from the attorney general’s Civil Rights Division, the state’s Executive Office of Health and Human Services, and the secretary of the Commonwealth’s office.

The commission would submit its recommendation to the Legislature by Dec. 31.

Meghan E. Irons can be reached at Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.