City Moves to Ease Drunken-Driving Law

Change Requires Approval by Mayor

The D.C. Council voted to relax a zero-tolerance drunken-driving law that some said was making the city look like the last refuge of Prohibition.

That law gives D.C. police the authority to arrest drivers with blood alcohol levels as low as .02 -- far less than the .08 level at which a driver is considered legally intoxicated. And recent news reports had highlighted cases of drivers being arrested after drinking one glass of wine with dinner.

By a vote of 9 to 3, the council passed emergency legislation to relax the rules. Drivers with a blood alcohol level under .05 would be presumed to be not intoxicated; drivers registering .05 to .079 would be considered impaired only if they failed field sobriety tests. Those changes would make the District's law similar to laws in Virginia, Maryland and other states.

If Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) approves the temporary legislation, it will go into effect for 90 days. The council then would have to act again to make the changes permanent.

At Deadline, 1 of 23 Landowners to Sell

Many Who Hold Rights Plan to Seek Better Deal

The city's batting average is 1 for 23 when it comes to getting property owners to sell land needed for a new baseball stadium. A mayoral spokesman released those figures Friday, the deadline the city had set for owners to respond to its offers to buy their property.

The District's offers total $97 million. But many of the 23 owners said they will fight for more money because neighbors just beyond the 21-acre ballpark site in Southeast have received bigger payments from private developers.

That sets the stage for court battles. The D.C. attorney general's office plans to go to D.C. Superior Court this week to begin eminent domain proceedings to seize all properties that have not been sold. City officials hope to control the site within 90 days so they can avoid delays in stadium construction. Their agreement with Major League Baseball requires them to complete the Washington Nationals' new home by March 2008.

Higher Taxes Urged to Pay for Schools

Patterson Proposal Opposed by Business Leaders

The chairman of the D.C. Council's education committee has a new idea on how to raise money to fix the city's crumbling public schools: increase the local hotel, parking and cigarette taxes and delay the income tax cuts planned for 2007. Those measures would provide the school system's construction program with an additional $1 billion over the next decade.

But the legislation by Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3) drew swift opposition from D.C. business leaders, especially in the hotel industry. They said her proposal to raise the hotel tax from 14.5 percent to 15.5 percent would make Washington's rate higher than the rates in the 18 cities with which it competes most directly for tourists, including New York, Chicago, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

After Patterson's colleagues on the committee complained that she had not consulted officials in the affected industries, she agreed to postpone a vote on the bill until a public hearing this week.

Courts to Decide Curbs on Drug Prices

City Law Banning 'Excessive Prices' Challenged

The courts will have the last word on a new District law that prohibits drug companies from selling prescription drugs at an "excessive price" in the city.

The law, which the council passed unanimously this month, would allow government officials or consumers to sue drugmakers if they believed that a drug's price was excessive. The legislation defines "excessive" as 30 percent higher than the comparable price in Germany, Canada, Australia or the United Kingdom.

But the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America has filed suit in federal court to prevent the law from going into effect. The suit claims the D.C. measure violates patent law and constitutional protections of interstate commerce. Drug industry officials said that prescription drug prices are set artificially low in Europe.

Team Red Sabrina Prabakaran, left, Taylor Jones, Alyssa Ovaitt and Brittany Sheehan try to determine the density of solutions at the University of Maryland.