House leaders are backing a bill to create a commission that would study racial disparities in maternal mortality after House Speaker Robert DeLeo pledged Friday to take "decisive action" to address structural racism.

The Committee on Health Care Financing reported out the bill (H 4448) Monday, sending it to the House Ways and Means Committee. Movement on the year-old legislation comes as the death of George Floyd, a Black man, has sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and racial injustice.

DeLeo sent an email to House members Friday evening conveying interest in short-term and long-term steps to tackle issues of inequality. The bill's movement appears to be one of the first public signs that the House is reacting to calls from demonstrators and colleagues.

"As a House, we recognize that addressing racism must include tackling systemic and institutional barriers to equity," according to a joint statement Monday from DeLeo, Reps. Daniel Cullinane, Kay Khan, and Liz Miranda. "Maternal health has long been a red flag for racial and ethnic disparities within the healthcare system. Women of color die of pregnancy-related causes at a rate three times higher than white women in the United States."

The bill would task a 20-member "special legislative commission" to "examine and make recommendations to reduce or eliminate racial disparities in maternal mortality and severe maternal morbidity in the commonwealth," according to the legislation.

The House and Senate chairs of the Committee on Public Health will serve as co-chairs. That legislative panel endorsed the commission bill in February.

Other members would include a representative from the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus, the state public health commissioner, a member of the Massachusetts Medical Society, and a health professional who specializes in racial disparities in maternal health.

Cullinane, vice chair of Health Care Financing, said this bill has always been a priority of his and that taking action on "racial and ethinic health disparities" is of paramount importance.

"This is an issue of injustice. If you are three times more likely to die giving birth or with birth-related issues because of the color of your skin that is an incredible injustice and that needs to be rectified," he told the News Service Monday evening. "Right now, when we see issues of injustice, and we see these racial and ethnic health disparities, we need to take action. We can't wait."

Federal, state, and local officials gathered outside the State House last week to outline a 10-point policy agenda to prevent police brutality and combat structural racism. The plan called on legislative leaders to take out of study two bills (H 2146 and H 4110) that would reform civil service exams and create a special commission on structural racism.

Members of the Black and Latino Legislative Caucus also advocated for another piece of legislation (H 2146) that would create a special commission on peace officer standards and training.

In their statement released Monday afternoon, House leaders said they are proud to move a piece of legislation that "builds upon the investment in the FY20 budget to expand perinatal health support services, as well as establishing perinatal mental health outcome measures to better evaluate the quality of maternal health care."

"This bill will help determine the causes of increased maternal mortality among women of color in Massachusetts and provide concrete policy recommendations for how to ensure that all women are treated equitably by our healthcare system," the statement read. "We look forward to continuing our work on issues of health equity as this legislation moves to [House Ways and Means]."