Sunday, April 21, 2024

Three Interesting Bills of the Week: Implicit Bias Training, Geriatric Parole and Furloughed Feds

The Virginia General Assembly convened for its 2023 session in Richmond Jan. 11, 2023. (Sarah Vogelsong / Virginia Mercury)

RICHMOND — Hundreds of bills are filed for General Assembly consideration each year. In this occasional series, the Virginia Mercury takes a look at a few of the proposals that might not otherwise make headlines during the whirlwind legislative session.

House Bill 1734 – Implicit bias training for practitioners working with pregnant persons

This legislation from Del. Chris Head, R-Roanoke, is part of a bipartisan effort that would require practitioners who have direct contact with persons who are or may become pregnant to complete two hours of continuing education related to implicit bias and cultural competency in health care.

The Virginia Board of Medicine would adopt and implement the policies and require that the education be completed at least once every other license renewal cycle, which is every two years. The bill defines implicit bias as “a bias or prejudice that is present but not consciously held or recognized.”

An identical version of the bill introduced this year by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, was struck in committee Thursday, with the panel agreeing to send a letter to the Task Force on Maternal Health Data and Quality Measures asking for a study.

Advocates have been calling for solutions to narrow the gap in racial disparities in maternal mortality for years, and multiple studies have confirmed that many medical professionals do hold implicit biases that affect quality of care.

Black women in Virginia are more than twice as likely to die in childbirth than white women, according to a 2017 report from the Virginia Department of Health. In 2020, non-Hispanic Black women nationwide experienced maternal mortality rates nearly three times higher than those of their white counterparts, according to the National Center for Health Statistics.

This is the eighth piece of legislation brought before the General Assembly to require implicit bias training for health care providers since 2022.

House Bill 1458 – Limiting certain geriatric prisoners from petitioning the Parole Board for release

This bill from Del. Jason Ballard, R-Giles, would expand the list of offenses that prohibit a person from petitioning the Parole Board for conditional release as a geriatric prisoner.

Current law allows any geriatric prisoner serving a sentence for a felony offense other than a Class 1 felony — the most serious type of crime, such as capital murder — to petition the Parole Board for conditional release. The designation includes any person who has reached the age of 65 or older and has served at least five years of his or her sentence or anyone has reached the age of 60 and has served at least 10 years of his or her sentence.

Ballard’s legislation would expand the list of felony offenses that prohibit geriatric prisoners from petitioning the Parole Board to include crimes such as murder of a pregnant woman, killing a fetus, lynching, acts of terrorism, kidnapping or abduction, robbery or carjacking and treason, among others.

Lawmakers voted along party lines to move forward with the bill in subcommittee this week.

Senate Bill 1545 – Eviction and foreclosure relief for furloughed federal agency employees during a shutdown

SB 1545 from Sen. Aaron Rouse, D-Virginia Beach, would provide temporary relief from eviction and foreclosure proceedings for certain Virginians who are furloughed or lose wages or payments as a result of a partial closure of the federal government. Eligible residents would include employees of U.S. government agencies and contractors for those agencies.

Under these circumstances, an employee would be granted an extra 60 days of protection from eviction for nonpayment of rent if he or she provides written proof of being furloughed.

Additionally, a 30-day stay will be granted if an employee owns a one- to four-family residential property and faces foreclosure, or if the owner of a property facing foreclosure has a tenant who was furloughed by the federal government within 90 days of the closure or 90 days following the end of the closure.

The bill defines the closure of the U.S. government as a “closure of one or more agencies of the United States federal government for a period of 14 consecutive days or longer as a result of a lapse of appropriation.”

Senate lawmakers unanimously moved forward with the bill in a subcommittee last week and full committee this week.

The last federal government closure was in December 2018 and lasted 35 days – the longest in the country’s history.

Virginia Mercury is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Virginia Mercury maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Sarah Vogelsong for questions: info@virginiamercury.com. Follow Virginia Mercury on Facebook and Twitter.

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