AN ITEM IN YESTERDAY'S METRO IN BRIEF COLUMN MISCHARACTERIZED AN AMENDMENT TO THE TAX PACKAGE ADOPTED BY THE D.C. COUNCIL. THE AMENDMENT WOULD STOP ANY TAX CUTS, WHICH ARE TO BE PHASED IN OVER FIVE YEARS, IF THE RATE OF GROWTH IN GROSS DOMESTIC PRODUCT FALLS BELOW 3.5 PERCENT, OR 1.7 PERCENT WHEN ADJUSTED FOR INFLATION. (PUBLISHED 06/24/99)

THE REGION

Three Relocated Beavers Chomping Away

The beaver family forced away from the cherry trees at the Tidal Basin in April appears to be adjusting well to a new home, National Park Service biologists said yesterday. But anyone thinking of paying the threesome a visit should think again.

"They've gotten a lot of publicity. We want to keep their location private," said Julia Long, a biological services technician with the Park Service.

The beavers--a mother, father and yearling--led wildlife experts on a week-long chase around the Tidal Basin, where they felled or damaged 14 cherry trees. The animals were caught and released within 18 hours of each other. Long said they probably found each other through scent.

Long visited the animals at the secret spot yesterday and said they have been happily gnawing at trees and building dams in the wet, wooded area. But the family reunion may not last long. The yearling will soon turn 2 years old and leave its parents' home, Long said.

Keeping this clan and others from migrating back to the Tidal Basin is a top priority for the Park Service, she said.

Zoo Officials Leaving in Search of Pandas

A three-member delegation from the National Zoo leaves tomorrow for a week-long trip to China, hoping to complete negotiations for two rare giant pandas.

The zoo needs permission from both the Chinese government and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to borrow the animals, which are native to China. Going on the trip will be Benjamin Beck, associate zoo director; Devra Kleiman, senior research scientist; and Lisa Stevens, associate curator of mammals.

"The team's goal is to finalize the details of cooperative research and conservation agreements," Robert Hoage, a zoo spokesman, said yesterday.

Meanwhile, the zoo's ailing male giant panda, Hsing-Hsing, has had "a string of good days," Hoage said. Hsing-Hsing was diagnosed last month with kidney disease, and zoo veterinarians said they do not know how long he will live.

MARYLAND

Woman Who Leapt From Fire Dies

Corinthia Brown-Bay, 48, who cradled her 3-year-old son in her arms and jumped from their burning third-floor apartment in Chillum five weeks ago, has died of severe burns she suffered in the blaze, Prince George's fire officials said yesterday.

Brown-Bay died Tuesday night at Washington Hospital Center, and her son is still in critical condition at Children's Hospital, according to the fire department.

The fire in Brown-Bay's apartment, in the 5400 block of 16th Avenue, broke out in a living room couch May 20, fire officials said. County fire spokesman Mark Brady said at the time that the woman broke her child's fall by cradling him.

Fire investigators said yesterday that the most likely cause of the blaze was the child "playing with an open-flame device."

Brown-Bay was the fifth fire fatality this year in Prince George's.

Airports to Get $1.6 Million in Grants

Five Maryland airports will share $1.6 million from the U.S. Department of Transportation in a series of grants intended to improve the nation's airports.

The lion's share of the money--$1.2 million--will go to Baltimore-Washington International Airport in Linthicum to help reduce noise, federal officials said.

The remaining airports and associated projects are:

Salisbury-Ocean City Airport/Wicomico Regional Airport, $236,414 to rehabilitate a runway; Hagerstown Regional Airport/Richard A. Henson Field, $97,750 to update the layout plan; Frederick Municipal Airport, $38,700 to improve airfield drainage; and Easton Airport/Newman Field, $36,600 to construct a building to house snow removal equipment.

THE DISTRICT

DMV Could Drop Social Security Numbers

The D.C. Department of Motor Vehicles is willing to stop using Social Security numbers in driver's licenses if motorists are worried that this makes them more susceptible to "identity theft" and fraud, DMV Deputy Director Henry Lightfoot told the D.C. Council yesterday.

Lightfoot was testifying in support of a bill introduced by council member Phil Mendelson (D-At Large) that would prohibit the agency from using Social Security numbers as driver's license numbers.

DMV currently has an individual's Social Security number double as a driver's license number unless the motorist requests a random, computer-generated number. Lightfoot said the DMV could instead use assigned random numbers unless the motorist requests that his or her Social Security number be used.

VIRGINIA

ACLU Backs Wiccan's Bid on Marriages

The American Civil Liberties Union has signed on to challenge a judge's refusal to allow a Wiccan priestess to perform marriage ceremonies for members of her coven.

"People of my faith certainly have the right to be married by someone of their faith," said Stephanie LaTronica, leader of the Coven of the Rose Moon, which operates out of her home. "After the extensive training I've had, this is a slap in the face."

The ruling was made June 7 by Circuit Court Judge Samuel Powell in Williamsburg.

Virginia law allows localities to decide whether to grant licenses to marry. Applicants must show a certificate of ordination and a letter from a federally recognized church verifying membership. At that point, the court clerk can decide to grant the license or refer the case to a judge.

Panel Probing Race in Traffic Stops

A General Assembly panel has opened an investigation into whether police in Virginia stop motorists based on race. Del. William P. Robinson Jr. (D-Norfolk) said at the panel's first meeting Tuesday that racial profiling is inconsistent with the values and laws of society.

But members of the panel also said there is no statistical evidence that police in the state stop motorists for "driving while black," as the racial profiling problem is called. The American Civil Liberties Union in Virginia believes the problem exists and urged the 10-member panel to order a statistical sampling of police stops.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"No one wants to believe what a fish can do to one of those ducklings."

--Stephen Lorenzetti, a resource management official for the agency that oversees Constitution Gardens, where more than 90 ducklings have fallen prey to catfish and bass as well as night herons sinced mid-March. --Page A1