Virginia Senate votes to repeal ultrasound law

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Local,Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Senate Democrats, enjoying a new majority in the upper chamber, voted Tuesday to repeal a law mandating that women seeking abortions undergo ultrasounds.

They also voted to raise the state's minimum wage. Both measures passed on 20 to 20 votes with Democratic Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam casting the deciding vote. Both were seen as likely symbolic votes given opposition to the Democratic positions in the Republican-controlled House.

Virginia came under intense criticism from abortion rights advocates in 2012 when it passed a law that requires a woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound preformed first. The law garnered national attention and wide spread mockery on late-night TV comedy shows.

Senate Democrats said Tuesday that the state had improperly encroached on grounds of a medical decision that should only be made by a woman and her doctor.

"Let doctors decide how to practice medicine," said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria.

Republicans said the law was unobtrusive and there was no evidence it was inconveniencing anyone.

"This is much to do about nothing," said Sen. Richard H. Black, R-Loudoun.

The repeal measure passed with the help of Prince William County Democratic Sen. Charles Colgan, who typically votes against abortion-rights bills. Colgan initially voted against the bill, then said he voted for by mistake when it came up a second time, which allowed the bill to pass.

An effort to allow Colgan to vote on the measure a third time — a motion that needed unanimous approval by the entire Senate —failed. The bill's sponsor, Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, cast the lone vote against allowing Colgan an opportunity to change his vote.

Democrats also pushed through a bill that would raise the increase the minimum wage to $8.25 an hour starting this year, and go up to $9.25 in 2015. The current wage is $7.25 an hour.

Democrats took control of the Senate last month after two special elections left an equally divided chamber with Northam as the tiebreaking vote. But their new-found power has a limited reach. Both the ultrasound repeal and the minimum wage hike measures will likely find little support in the GOP-controlled House, which has already rejected similar bills this session.

Tuesday was the last day for the Senate to approve its own bills before the second half of the 2014 legislative session begins. The minimum wage hike was one of the last orders of business.

During a lengthy debate on the bill, Republicans said a minimum wage hike would hurt the low-income workers the bill was designed to help.

But Democratic supporters of the measure said creating higher wages for lower earners was a "moral" issue.

Also on Tuesday, the House passed a flurry of bills, including a measure aimed at reducing the number of standardized tests students in Virginia's public schools are required to take.

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