D.C. a Step Closer to Being Smoke-Free

Mayor Has Not Decided Whether to Sign Bill

The D.C. Council voted 12 to 1 to put Washington on the list of smoke-free cities, supporting a measure that would prohibit smoking in bars, restaurants and other indoor public places. A final vote could take place this month or in January.

Mayor Anthony A. Williams (D) said he is concerned about the ban's potential effects on small businesses and has not decided whether he will sign it. And several council members plan to push for changes in the bill.

The current version gives bars, clubs and the bar areas of restaurants until January 2007 to go smoke-free, but some members want the ban to take effect sooner. Some also want to tighten a loophole that would grant a waiver to businesses that demonstrated a "significant, negative impact" from the ban.

City, MLB Reach Deal on Stadium Lease

Council Scheduled to Vote on Agreement Dec. 20

The District government and Major League Baseball reached a formal agreement on a stadium lease after three months of negotiations and sent it to the D.C. Council, which is scheduled to vote on the document Dec. 20.

Under the agreement, the league will give the city $20 million for stadium construction and a letter of credit that would cover the Washington Nationals' rent payments if games were canceled because of an unforeseen event such as a terrorist attack or a players' strike. In return, the city will give the Nationals one-third of the parking revenue generated at the stadium on non-game days, a provision that officials say will allow baseball to recoup the $20 million over the course of the 30-year lease.

Some council members said baseball hasn't gone far enough in contributing money to cover the rapidly escalating costs of the project.

Plan Would Raise $1.3 Billion for Schools

Panel Backs Cigarette, Other Taxes for Rebuilding

A proposal to raise $1.3 billion for renovation of D.C. schools over the next decade, by increasing cigarette and commercial property taxes and postponing an income tax cut, has cleared the D.C. Council's education committee. But the bill faces opposition from many business leaders, with some questioning whether the school system would spend the money wisely.

Several past school rebuilding projects have been plagued by cost overruns. The legislation, sponsored by Kathy Patterson (D-Ward 3), would create an advisory committee to oversee the rebuilding effort, but critics argue that an independent authority should be put in charge.

Patterson said the construction aid is based on the assumption that the school system, which has been losing enrollment steadily, will reduce its space by one-third by consolidating schools. Superintendent Clifford B. Janey has said he will announce a facilities plan in April.

Panda Cub Takes First Bow for Public

More Viewing Passes to Be Given Out This Month

Five-month-old giant panda cub Tai Shan made his public debut, frolicking and lounging before hundreds of visitors at the National Zoo's Panda House.

All of the more than 40,000 timed-entry passes for panda viewing through early January have been taken. But zoo officials said more passes will be given out this month after they see how active the cub is during visits and how tolerant he is of visitors.

In addition, a small number of same-day tickets are being given out at 8 a.m. daily at the panda information booth.

Across the Region

Metro Management; Maryland Execution

* A majority of Metro board members have become disillusioned with the performance of the agency's top executive, Richard A. White, and have begun closed-door discussions about how to remove him from the job, according to several sources familiar with the talks.

* Death row inmate Wesley E. Baker died by lethal injection, becoming the first black man executed in Maryland after a state-sponsored study found disparities, by race and geography, in how the death penalty law is used. Baker, 47, had fatally shot a woman in a 1991 robbery in the parking lot of a suburban Baltimore mall.

Snow Must Go Schools were closed Friday in Alexandria, but Marlon Newman and Eric McKenney still cleared sidewalks at Lyles-Crouch Traditional Academy.