MARYLAND

Laurel Firm Fined for Firing Workers

A Maryland food processing plant was ordered to pay more than $380,000 for illegally firing two Salvadoran women legally allowed to work in the United States. The Justice Department said the fine is the largest civil penalty ever imposed for discrimination under federal immigration laws.

Townsend Culinary Inc., of Laurel, fired Delmy Guerrero and Ana Torres when they did not provide documents issued by the Immigration and Naturalization Service proving their legal status, according to Wednesday's decision.

By requiring the INS documents, the company imposed a higher standard of documentation than is required by law, according to the Justice Department. Administrative Law Judge Joseph E. McGuire also found that the company imposed similar hiring standards on 660 other legal immigrants.

As part of the decision, rendered in a federal immigration court in Falls Church, the food company must give the two women their jobs back and pay $13,400 in back wages.

Request to Spread Sludge Withdrawn

A British construction and mining company has withdrawn its application for a state permit to apply sewage sludge to 275 acres of land in Prince George's County.

Bardon Inc. suspended its plan to apply 17,000 tons of sludge to unused portions of Hyde Field, an airfield on Route 223 in Clinton, after 50 nearby residents protested.

"With so much political heat and the neighbors in such an uproar, we thought it would be better to temporarily withdraw the application and go through an education process," said Tim Bevard, an environmental manager for Bardon.

Bardon would have applied the sludge, from the Blue Plains Wastewater Treatment Plant, to reclaim land it had been mining for sand and gravel. The airport's operations would not have been affected.

Bardon may reapply for a permit after meeting with the community. Earnest Clayton, a neighborhood activist, said that "if Bardon tries it again, we'll be out there protesting again."

VIRGINIA

State Begins I-81 Improvements

Rumble strips and other safety improvements are underway on crowded Interstate 81, where traffic has doubled over the last 20 years with up to 40 percent of that traffic coming from tractor-trailers.

Fatal crashes on the interstate this year focused attention on the highway, which runs for 236 miles in Virginia, from Winchester to Bristol.

The Virginia Department of Transportation has begun installing rumble strips on the shoulders of I-81 to alert drivers if they drift off the road. A VDOT official says the strips have reduced off-the-road accidents by up to 70 percent in other parts of the country.

Other planned improvements include a safety patrol between Botetourt and Montgomery counties to clear accidents off the road and large signs to warn drivers of traffic and weather conditions. The improvements are meant as stopgap measures until I-81 is widened from six to eight lanes. That project may take 20 years to finish.

DMV Web Site to Renew Driver's Licenses

The state Department of Motor Vehicles has been so pleased with the online car registration system launched May 17 that it will expand the use of its Internet site this fall to include the ability to renew driver's licenses.

Drivers also will be able to order specialty license plates and pay for them by credit card on the department's Web site, www.dmv.state.va.us.

Internet registrations jumped from 184 in May to 1,303 in June to 3,450 in July. That's just a fraction of the 350,000 total registrations each month, "but it's giving people more options--options that can save time," said Pam Goheen, a DMV spokeswoman.

THE DISTRICT

Convention Center Lawsuit Dismissed

A U.S. district judge has dismissed a lawsuit filed last year by opponents of the new convention center who had alleged that $55 million in city taxes were illegally collected to finance construction.

Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly ruled Thursday that the plaintiffs, D.C. residents and businesses, should have filed the suit in D.C. Superior Court because federal courts may not intervene in local tax disputes until local remedies have been exhausted.

She did not address the core question: whether the D.C. Council failed to properly pass legislation authorizing collection of hotel and restaurant taxes to support the $685 million project.

Daniel M. Schember, an attorney for the plaintiffs, said his clients have not told him whether they want to file the suit in Superior Court or appeal the federal ruling.

Past-Due Foster Care Bills to Be Paid

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) gave the go-ahead yesterday for the city to make millions of dollars in overdue payments for children's services. The mayor's office has been entangled in a budget battle with Ernestine F. Jones, the court-appointed receiver for the D.C. foster care system.

Jones, completing her second year as the child welfare system's receiver, relies upon the D.C. government for funding. She and Williams's staff have quarreled over spending practices, and lately the differences have stalled payments to foster care parents and numerous contractors who care for about 3,000 children.

Vincent Gray, who leads a consortium of child welfare providers, said he understood that Jones's agency was facing a shortfall of at least $13 million for the current fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30. Williams agreed yesterday to have the two sides jointly review invoices so that payments can be made, with the most-overdue bills given highest priority.

Gray said some foster care providers hadn't been fully paid for months and were preparing to take the dispute to court when the crisis was resolved at "the eleventh hour."

QUOTE OF THE DAY

"He was not speeding. There was nothing he was doing to contribute to the accident. You have to have that sort of negligence. This case doesn't come close."

--Howard Merker, a Baltimore County prosecutor, explaining why no criminal negligence charge has been filed against the driver of a truck that caused a pedestrian overpass to collapse on the Baltimore Beltway, killing one person and injuring three. The truck was carrying a backhoe that extended over state limits and hit the overpass.

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