House Democrats, who are trying to pick up seats in this fall's election, voted yesterday to oust Del. Franklin P. Hall of Richmond as their minority leader and replace him with Del. Ward L. Armstrong, 50, of Henry County.

Even though the party has picked up six seats in the House since Hall, 68, took over as minority leader in 2002, the caucus voted 27 to 12 to install Armstrong. All 140 seats in the General Assembly are up this fall.

"The caucus has determined we need a new direction and a new leader," said Del. Brian J. Moran (D-Alexandria), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.

Several delegates said Hall was too timid in rebutting the Republican majority in the House.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, Armstrong pledged to be a more aggressive advocate for the party. "As we position ourselves for the fall campaign, we are looking to the future and feel we need to get our message to the people," said Armstrong, who assumed the role yesterday. "I am not afraid to stand up and debate."

The caucus leader controls the party's agenda on the House floor, recruits candidates and directs who gets campaign contributions.

-- Tim CraigAssembly Approves Raises for WorkersThe General Assembly voted unanimously yesterday to approve a package of state budget amendments providing more money for public employees, mental health care and Chesapeake Bay cleanup. Del. Vincent F. Callahan Jr. (R-Fairfax), chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, noted that differences between the House and Senate spending plans reconciled by the budget conference committee were not as stark as they have been in previous years.

"It is much easier to bring about an agreeable conference report when we are talking about shades of gray rather than black and white," Callahan said.

The final product includes a 4 percent raise for state employees, college faculty and state-supported local employees. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine's (D) introduced budget had set the raise at 3 percent.

The budget provides the state's share of a 3 percent raise for public school teachers, who had pressed for a larger raise to bring their salaries closer to the national average. Virginia's average teacher salary of $47,248 is $1,861 below the national average, according to the Virginia Education Association.

-- Associated PressFine for Removing Electronic Dog CollarsThe General Assembly passed legislation yesterday making it illegal to remove an electronic tracking collar from a dog. Those convicted of removing a collar would face up to a year in jail and a $2,500 fine. If the dog is lost or killed, they would be required to pay restitution for the dog and any lost breeding revenue.

Hunting enthusiasts pushed the law to make it easier to prosecute those who remove the collars, which, along with the receivers to pick up the tracking signal, cost thousands of dollars. In most documented cases, the collars were not stolen but simply removed and thrown aside, making it difficult to prosecute on a larceny charge.

-- Associated Press