RICHMOND Tension between Senate Democrats and Republicans flared again Monday when legislation to weaken an abortion-related law was killed in committee without debate, leading its patron to angrily call the proceedings a “kangaroo court.”
That proposal from Sen. Ralph Northam, D-Norfolk, was a last-ditch attempt to negate a statute approved last year amid controversy that requires women to undergo an ultrasound before having an abortion.
His optional ultrasound bill, SB 1332, was heard at a hastily-convened Senate Education and Health Committee afternoon hearing.
It was just as quickly dispatched – on 8-3 vote without all members present – over Northam’s objections.
Things got testy moments after the hearing began when Sen. Steve Martin, the committee chairman, moved to table the bill without discussion of the bill, reasoning the panel had heard debate on similar bills.
Northam interjected, saying his bill to make ultrasounds optional is different from the measure to repeal last year’s law.
“I would hope you would know the difference,” snipped Northam, a physician running for lieutenant governor this year.
Then Martin, who is likewise running for lieutenant governor, countered that the outcome would effectively be the same under an already nixed repeal bill or the optional ultrasound proposal.
“We have heard that bill now twice,” Martin, R-Chesterfield County, told reporters afterwards. “We’ve had a full hearing before both committees and subcommittees previously.”
Proposals from Northam and other Democrats to undo the ultrasound law passed last year and override rules holding abortion clinics to hospital-like building standards failed in Martin’s committee earlier this month.
And now, as a key deadline for determinative action on legislation approaches, Martin said he’s trying to clear a committee docket with about 50 bills remaining in the queue and one scheduled meeting left before then.
Northam had hoped the fate of this bill might be different, especially after meeting last week with representatives of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli who indicated he conceptually supported the measure.
Signals apparently got crossed sometime between then and Monday because a Cuccinelli spokesman said Northam never followed up with them and they weren’t advised about Monday’s meeting.
Northam disputes that account of how things unfolded.
What’s undisputed is that the rancor which divided Senate partisans last year on power-sharing and social legislation is again in full bloom after last week’s redistricting rewrite by Senate Republicans.
“They’re not interested in listening to the public. They’re not interested in debating the topic,” Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax County, said of Republican senators.
Howell complained the meeting was called with short-notice when everyone wasn’t present and GOP officials proceeded “with their railroad . . . and that’s the way things seem to be going around here.”
Martin rejected claims Democrats were treated unfairly, recalling that Republicans often found themselves on the short-end of procedural decisions when they weren’t in power.
After the hearing, two Richmond-area doctors who’d hoped to testify in support of the bill lamented the lack of public comment and the ultrasound mandate they see as government intrusion into medicine.
“I’m astounded that they could railroad such important bills without even considering or discussing it,” said Dr. Ike Koziol, a urologist who called a pre-abortion ultrasound medically unnecessary.
- Julian Walker, The (Norfolk Virginian-Pilot)