MARYLAND

Brookeville Woman Wins Asbestos Case

A 34-year-old Brookeville woman who believes she got asbestos-related cancer as a child when her home was remodeled was awarded a $9.1 million court judgment yesterday after she sued the company that made one of the remodeling products.

Lisa Pransky won the judgment from a jury in Montgomery County Circuit Court that had ruled against the Georgia Pacific Corp., which sold a joint-covering compound used by her father on their recreation room in 1973.

The compound was 3 percent asbestos, and the asbestos became airborne after her father sanded it, said Pransky's attorney, Stephen J. Nolan.

Last year, Pransky was diagnosed as having malignant mesothelioma, which develops over decades and is believed to be caused only by asbestos. She had her left lung removed immediately, but a year later the cancer returned to her right lung.

A Georgia-Pacific attorney in Atlanta said the company had never lost such a case before.

Allegany Toll Bridge Likely to Reopen

A private toll bridge over the Potomac River in Western Maryland is likely to reopen for business this weekend, four years after it was closed by inspectors.

Ray Miller, son-in-law of bridge owner Frances Walters, said he would present an engineering report to the Allegany County Public Works Department by the end of this week, certifying that the bridge is safe for vehicle traffic.

"We need to start generating some revenue," Miller said.

The Walterses, who live across the river in Green Spring, W.Va., haven't been able to collect the 50-cent fare since Aug. 2, 1995, when Allegany County declared the one-lane wooden bridge unsafe. Despite the official closure, motorists have continued to cross the bridge and even removed concrete barricades rather than take a 45-minute detour.

The Walters family wrangled with county and state officials for three years to craft a public funding package for repairs. West Virginia and Maryland finally contributed $50,000 each, and the family agreed to pay for any additional work necessary.

State Collects $4,100 of New Tax

The state's much-publicized effort to claim $50 million in uncollected sales tax on furniture bought out of state has netted $4,100 so far.

"I'm satisfied," said Comptroller William Donald Schaefer (D), two months after announcing the crackdown.

State inspectors have found 108 untaxed furniture shipments at state weigh stations, prompting 92 letters to Maryland purchasers, who paid $1,867.35 by Aug. 4, spokesman Mike Golden says.

An additional $2,232.65 has come in voluntarily from other people who learned about the obscure tax from Schaefer's efforts, Golden said.

They include comptroller's new enforcement chief, Larry Tolliver, who paid $300 for furniture he bought in North Carolina before taking the new job.

VIRGINIA

Legislator Criticizes Oversight of Agency

A prominent legislator says that a state watchdog agency has failed to protect the rights of Virginia's mentally disabled citizens.

State Sen. Joseph V. Gartlan Jr. (D-Fairfax) said the General Assembly should reenact legislation next year to ensure the Department for the Rights of Virginians with Disabilities is independent of the executive branch.

Gartlan said the agency can't protect and advocate rights and services for the mentally disabled with so much government oversight. He delivered his criticisms during a hearing before a joint legislative mental health panel. The department's director and mental health advocates squared off over a recent move to stop federal funding of the agency. Gartlan will soon retire from the Senate seat he has held since 1972.

Safety on I-81 Probed by State Agencies

State Police and the state departments of transportation and motor vehicles are considering ways to improve safety on Interstate 81, which stretches 326 miles in Virginia between Winchester and Bristol.

Twenty-five people have been killed along an 85-mile portion of I-81 between Christiansburg and Lexington since July 4, 1998. In one 20-mile stretch between Buchanan and Lexington, accidents have killed 13 people.

But officials acknowledge that long-term solutions such as widening the interstate, may not come for another decade. They attribute some of the I-81 problems to congestion. Traffic on the interstate has tripled in the last 25 years, and it is handling far more truck traffic than planned.

When I-81 was built about 30 years ago, its designers intended for trucks to comprise 15 percent of the load, but big rigs now account for 40 percent of the traffic.

Police say driver inattention and speed are the chief causes of accidents on I-81.

THE DISTRICT

Vote on District Budget Postponed

Final votes on District's $4.7 billion budget have been put off until Congress returns from its summer recess.

The House had considered voting on the fiscal 2000 spending plan Thursday night. But after Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.) urged her fellow Democrats to oppose it--raising the possibility the bill might not pass--the matter was put on hold until at least the second week in September, when Congress reconvenes. Fiscal 2000 does not start until Oct. 1.

Norton criticized so-called social riders that would ban city spending on a needle-exchange program for drug addicts; abortions; health care for domestic partners; and city lawyers pursuing expanded voting rights in Congress for the District.

The joint House-Senate bill would also allow two cellular phone towers to be built in Rock Creek Park without additional local review.

"We cannot in good conscience say to you that this is a bill worthy of your vote," Norton said in a letter to fellow Democrats.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"While we have a drought, we also have sufficient water. If and when it becomes necessary to cite people for violations and impose Draconian measures, we will."

--Prince George's County Executive Wayne K. Curry, who has been less eager to carry out Gov. Parris N. Glendening's restrictions on water use than officials in Montgomery County.