New Laws Hit the Books

D.C. Drivers Can't Use Hand-Held Cell Phones

Scores of new laws passed by the Maryland General Assembly took effect Thursday, including a law that increased vehicle registration fees to replenish the state's transportation trust fund. Car owners will pay $128 every two years, up from $81; SUV and truck owners will pay $180 every two years, up from $108.

Other new Maryland laws allow nonviolent offenders to avoid jail time or be declared eligible for parole by agreeing to undergo drug or alcohol treatment, and allow local school boards to authorize a teacher to make a reasonable search of students on school-sponsored trips under certain circumstances.

In the District, a new law prohibits drivers from talking on a cell phone without a hands-free device. Police will issue warnings to violators during the first 31 days, then will issue tickets and $100 fines starting in August.

In Virginia, more than two dozen drunken driving laws went into effect, making the state among the toughest in the nation on intoxicated drivers. Most of the laws will impost stricter punishments on repeat offenders and "extremely drunk" drivers, but the legislation also makes it more likely that first-time drunk drivers will go to jail.

More Schools Meet Md. Standards

Test Familiarity, Voluntary Curriculum Cited

Nearly 200 of Maryland's 1,430 public schools have failed to meet state performance requirements on reading and math tests. The results, however, represent a substantial improvement from a year ago, officials said. The state superintendent of schools, Nancy S. Grasmick, attributed the gains -- especially by black and Hispanic students -- to teachers and students becoming familiar with the tests, and to a voluntary state curriculum introduced last year.

New, less stringent rules for assessing the performance of subgroups of students, such as those who speak limited English, also affected the improvement. In the Washington area, Prince George's County had the most public schools -- 55 -- fall short of the requirements.

Cancer Rate of Firefighters a Concern

Anne Arundel Hires Scientist to Investigate

State health officials have hired a John Hopkins University epidemiologist to investigate why a number of Anne Arundel County firefighters have developed cancer.

In the past decade, as many as 20 have died, and more than 20 current or former fighters have the disease. Many in the department fear that the cases might be linked to a toxic oil used to ignite fires at its Millersville training facility in the late 1970s and early '80s.

Across the Region

Minority Firefighters; Conjoined Twins

* Montgomery County Council member Tom Perez (D-Silver Spring) proposed spending $200,000 to bolster recruitment of minority firefighters and to pay for a review of the firefighters test to determine whether it gives unfair advantage to white applicants. The current class of firefighters has fewer minorities than any class since 1988.

* Jade and Erin Buckles, the 4-month-old conjoined twins who were surgically separated June 19, have been discharged from Children's Hospital. The girls will get occupational and physical therapy at home. Doctors said there will be few restrictions on their activities.

* Richard A. White, Metro's top manager, said he will monitor conditions in subways to determine whether the agency will continue to run short trains after 10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.

* Some scientists say that the predatory northern snakehead probably is established in the region's waters. Nine snakehead fish have been caught in the Potomac River in the past seven weeks. The snakehead is a native of China and Korea and feeds chiefly on other fish.

Bank robbery: Three masked men robbed a bank on Connecticut Avenue NW. The robbery t was similar to five others this year. A TV crew videotaped the final seconds of the robbery.