Ehrlich Backs More Charter Schools

Governor Wants New Penalties for Convicts With Guns

Maryland Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr.'s administration fleshed out his signature education and crime-fighting initiatives, vowing to dramatically expand the number of charter schools in the state and make "gun-bangers" pay for their crimes. Ehrlich wants to remove a key obstacle for many charter schools -- getting approval from a local school board -- by allowing universities, the State Board of Education and other entities to also charter the schools. He would allow teachers at the tax-supported charters to operate outside the auspices of the state's teachers union.

The governor also proposed tougher measures for felons convicted of a violent crime who are later caught with a gun. Both measures are likely to generate significant debate in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly.

U-Md. Cited Over Electrical Explosion

Safety, Health Flaws Identified in Fatal Accident

State inspectors have cited the University of Maryland for five alleged violations of state safety and health regulations, four of them deemed serious, in connection with an electrical explosion that killed a campus employee in the fall.

Inspectors found that workers used no eye protection and wore flammable clothing around high-voltage equipment in a room with inadequate exits and poor lighting, according to documents from the Occupational Safety and Health office. Because the university is a government entity, it will not face fines, but it will be ordered to correct any problems.

Moose Formed Consulting Firm

Police Chief's Venture May Violate Montgomery Policy

Six weeks after announcing the arrest of the Washington area sniper suspects, Montgomery County Police Chief Charles A. Moose established a for-profit consulting firm to deliver motivational talks, organize team-building exercises, and offer pointers on crisis management and conflict resolution.

The venture is one of several off-duty opportunities that could place Moose at odds with the Montgomery Ethics Commission, which forbids "using the prestige of office for personal gain."

Metts Reduces School Budget Request

Money Cut From Magnet School, Class Reduction Plans

Prince George's Schools Chief Iris T. Metts has taken the first steps toward slashing her own request for a $256 million increase in the school system's budget. Metts outlined $118 million in cuts to her proposed spending budget for fiscal 2004, slicing $13 million designed to reduce some elementary school class sizes and $2 million to create magnet programs at three high schools. But some school board members asked Metts to consider restoring at least some of the money.

Shenandoah Park Slayings

Ashcroft Authorizes Prosecutors to Seek Death Penalty

U.S. Attorney General John D. Ashcroft has authorized federal prosecutors to pursue the death penalty against a Maryland man who is charged in the 1996 slayings of two women at a Shenandoah National Park campsite.

Darrell D. Rice, 35, of Columbia is charged with capital murder in the deaths of Julianne M. Williams and Laura S. "Lollie" Winans. The women went missing after entering the park in May 1996 and were found about a week later near Skyline Drive, their throats slashed and their hands bound.

Across the Region

Tax Increase Weighed; Loudoun Target of Growth Lawsuits

* The Howard County legislative delegation is to decide Wednesday whether it will back a proposal by County Executive James N. Robey (D) to increase the county's property transfer tax. Robey wants to bump the tax from 1 percent to 1.5 percent of the sale price for new and existing homes, with the increased revenue going to finance the sale of school construction bonds. The plan has been opposed by county Realtors, who say that Howard would be taxing home sales at the highest rate in Maryland. An increase would require the General Assembly's approval.

* Opponents of Loudoun County's extensive effort to slow growth filed more than 150 lawsuits against the county Wednesday, marking the beginning of one of the broadest legal challenges to local government in Virginia history,. The lawsuits were filed by builders, developers, landowners and investors.

SAD REMEMBRANCE: An elementary school in Gaithersburg that has a strong connection to the space shuttle program again mourned the loss of astronauts' lives. The school is named for Judith A. Resnick, in portrait, an astronaut who died in the Challenger explosion in 1986.