MARYLAND

Rockfish Called Safe in Small Doses

The Maryland Department of the Environment issued guidelines yesterday for the consumption of rockfish from the Chesapeake Bay, saying that men can eat two meals a month -- and women and children one meal a month -- without increasing their risk of cancer.

The guidelines were issued after a survey of Chesapeake rockfish that lasted nearly three years. State officials were checking the fish to see whether they had ingested high levels of PCBs -- an industrial coolant -- mercury or other chemical pollutants.

The survey ended with the conclusion that "rockfish in the Chesapeake Bay are safe and healthy to eat." But there was this caveat: If the fish were eaten more often than the guidelines suggest, over a period of 30 years they could produce a slight increase in a person's risk of cancer.

Public TV Officials Cleared on Contracts

A review by the attorney general's office found no evidence of criminal wrongdoing by public television executives who evaded state controls over contracts for two projects from 2000 to 2002.

Boyd K. Rutherford, secretary of general services, said the failure to follow procurement guidelines appeared to be motivated by an effort get the work done quickly to meet funding guidelines.

Members of the Board of Public Works asked for the review after they received an audit critical of the way projects worth more than $500,000 at Maryland Public Television headquarters were broken into contracts just under $25,000 each. That allowed the contracts to be awarded without board approval.

Rutherford said the review turned up no evidence of improprieties beyond failure to comply with state purchasing regulations.

THE DISTRICT

Slots Proposal Clears Hurdle

Backers of a plan to bring slot machine gambling to the nation's capital continued their headlong dive toward the Nov. 2 ballot yesterday, as city officials agreed to publish a second special supplement of the D.C. Register to move the initiative forward.

Publication of "The District of Columbia Video Lottery Terminal Initiative of 2004" starts the clock ticking on a 10-day challenge period when opponents will have a chance to block the measure. If no challenge is filed, the Board of Elections and Ethics will issue petitions, and slots backers will have about two weeks to gather the signatures of about 17,500 registered voters.

The supplement -- which also contains the text of a second referendum that would lower the age of majority from 21 to 18 for purposes of child support -- was published by Secretary of the District Sherryl Hobbs Newman at the request of D.C. Council member Vincent B. Orange Sr. (D-Ward 5). Orange said he made the request after speaking with lawyer and former council member John Ray, who represents investors in a plan to bring 3,500 slot machines to Ward 5.

"I take no position on the merits of either proposal," Orange wrote to the register's editors, "but I believe D.C. voters -- pro and con -- should be able to cast their ballots on these measures in the November election."

Yesterday marked the second time slots backers have won a special supplement to the register, the city's official legal bulletin. Last week, register editors permitted them to spend about $2,000 to print one at Kinko's and mail it to 405 subscribers. The elections board has called for an investigation of the incident, which Newman called "a serious breach of procedure."

The elections board nonetheless accepted last week's supplement as valid public notice. The second supplement was needed for a new purpose: to publicize the summary that will appear on official petitions.

Students, Staffs, Parents Protest Cuts

Students and staff members walked out of three schools on Capitol Hill from 11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. yesterday to protest staff cuts mandated by the school board.

The walkout took place at the schools known as the Capitol Hill Cluster, which includes Peabody Elementary, Watkins Elementary and Stuart-Hobson Middle School.

The students and employees were joined by parents who held signs and protested outside the schools.

Last month, the board voted to eliminate the jobs of 557 school-based employees, including 285 teachers, to balance its budget.

VIRGINIA

Wilder, Allen to Talk Budget

When Republican members of the House of Delegates gather next weekend in Reston to discuss the state's finances, they'll hear from two former governors: one a Republican, the other a Democrat who often agrees with Republicans these days.

L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat who in 1989 became the nation's first elected black governor and is now running for mayor of Richmond, will be the dinner speaker for the House Republicans' Ideas and Issues Retreat on June 18.

The breakfast speaker the next morning will be Wilder's successor as governor, U.S. Sen. George Allen (R).

Wilder was governor when Virginia suffered through a severe recession. The state did not increase taxes during his term. Wilder joined Allen on March 1 in urging legislators to pass a budget with no tax increases, then let voters decide in a referendum whether higher taxes are warranted.

The Republican-controlled General Assembly passed a $1.5 billion tax increase after 17 Republican delegates defied their party's official anti-tax stance and sided with 35 Democrats to support higher sales, cigarette and real estate recording taxes.

Prison Food Policy Is Ruled Kosher

A federal judge threw out a lawsuit yesterday filed by a Jewish inmate who alleged the state discriminated against female prisoners by limiting special religious diets to its maximum-security prison for women, while providing such meals in all men's prisons.

Inmate Mitzi Ann Hamilton, serving 51/2 years for fraud and forgery at the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women, also claimed that the Department of Corrections refused to provide her with certified kosher meals as part of its "common fare" diet designed to accommodate inmates' religious beliefs.

In a 20-minute hearing, U.S. District Judge Richard L. Williams cut off arguments by lawyers for Hamilton and the state, saying he understood the law in such cases.

Hamilton's attorneys had asked for a preliminary injunction against the state, but Williams dismissed the case instead. "I find that Hamilton has not presented a substantial federal claim," said the judge, describing her allegations as "niggling complaints."

"There aren't words for what we have all been feeling about this. We're all walking around in emotional exhaustion. How could someone do this to innocent children?"

-- Ninfa Lozano, a relative of the three Baltimore children hacked to death in Baltimore last week. They will be buried this weekend in their family's home of village of Tenenexpan in southern Mexico. -- Page B1

Compiled from reports by staff writers David A. Fahrenthold, Justin Blum and Lori Montgomery and the Associated Press.