PHOENIX — Arizona officials are jumping back into a persistent, yet debunked controversy over President Barack Obama’s birth certificate and his eligibility to hold office.
A legislative committee on Wednesday endorsed a proposal that requires presidential candidates to swear that they meet the qualifications to be the nation’s chief executive.
And the Arizona secretary of state is expected in the coming days to call for candidates to complete a new form asking eligibility questions, including whether they are natural-born U.S. citizens.
The widely disproved notion that the president was born abroad rather than in Hawaii, as state officials have repeatedly confirmed, comes up regularly in Arizona. Most recently, the man known as “America’s Toughest Sheriff” released a report from a volunteer posse challenging the authenticity of the president’s birth certificate.
Senate approves $109 billion transportation bill
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved a two-year blueprint for transportation that gives states greater spending flexibility, allows the federal government to set minimum safety standards for subway systems and buys time to find a solution for a funding system teetering on the verge of bankruptcy.
The bipartisan bill was approved 17 days before current transportation funding and authority to collect the federal gas tax that support it are due to expire. After efforts to move a House transportation bill stalled last week, the Senate bill may hold the only chance that legislation reaches the White House before the deadline. It won broad support, passing on a vote of 74-22.
The Senate bill boils down the number of federal transportation programs from about 90 to fewer than 30, gives states money for projects that ease congestion and air pollution, increases highway safety funding, cuts red tape that delays projects and expands a federal program that provides loans and loan guarantees that encourage private investment.
Swiss bus crash kills 28, including 22 children
SIERRE, Switzerland — A tour bus carrying schoolchildren home from a class trip slammed head-on into a tunnel wall in the Swiss Alps, killing 22 Belgian students and six adults and instantly changing a joyous skiing vacation into a tragedy spanning two European nations.
Police said the bus was not speeding and everyone aboard had been wearing seat belts when it crashed late Tuesday inside the1.5-mile Tunnel de Geronde on a highway near the southern town of Sierre, a gateway to the Val d’Anniviers tourist region. No other vehicles were involved.
Belgian authorities flew anxious parents and relatives to the site and called for a day of mourning. The Swiss parliament held a minute of silence for the victims.
Saudi oil chief pledges to offset shortfalls
KUWAIT CITY — Saudi Arabia’s top oil official said Wednesday his country and other oil exporters are ready to offset any shortfalls in supply, as fears of a showdown with Iran over its nuclear program help drive prices higher.
The comments from OPEC’s top oil producer were followed by a call from a senior American energy official for increased production to relieve what he sees as “tight” markets that are keeping prices high. The official, Deputy Secretary of Energy Daniel Poneman, cautioned that rising crude prices could put the economic recovery at risk.
Saudi Oil Minister Ali Al-Naimi, however, said that the market for now remains “generally balanced,” with what he said was ample production and refining capacity.
Al-Naimi made no specific reference to Iran, which is OPEC’s second largest oil producer after Saudi Arabia. But the comments come as U.S. and Western partners urge key Iranian oil customers in Asia, such as China and India, to cut back on their imports from the Islamic Republic and turn to other suppliers such as Western ally Saudi Arabia.
There also are fears that military action against Iran could severely disrupt global oil supplies. Iran also has threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz at the mouth of the Gulf in retaliation for U.S. and European sanctions targeting its oil exports. The strait is the route for about a fifth of the world’s oil exports.
Death of Wash. boy third gun accident in 3 weeks
SEATTLE — A 3-year-old scrambled out of his child seat after his parents stopped for gas early Wednesday, found a gun police say was left in the car by his father and fatally shot himself in the head.
The accidental shooting in Tacoma marks the third in three weeks in Washington involving young children, and the second death. The spate of gun violence is raising questions about the effectiveness of the state’s gun laws and community awareness of firearm safety.
Tacoma police Officer Naveed Benjamin said the 3-year-old boy’s death highlights the need for people to secure guns.
“It is incredible in light of the other ones,” Benjamin said. “You would think people would take more care, not less.”
Tacoma police said the boy’s death came after his father put his pistol under a seat and got out to pump gas while the mother went inside the convenience store. The boy’s infant sister, who also was in the car when the gun went off, was not injured.
Detectives questioned the parents and have called the shooting a tragic accident, Benjamin said. The father has a concealed weapons permit, and no charges have been filed, he said. Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist said that he is reviewing the case for possible manslaughter charges.
Washington does not have a law specifically concerning child access to firearms, but state law is very specific about carrying loaded pistols in vehicles.
A person with a concealed weapons permit may carry a gun in a car in Washington state, but is required to have it on his person. If they have to leave it in the car, the law says it must be locked and concealed from view.
The shooting follows the death of the 7-year-old daughter of a Marysville police officer in Stanwood on Saturday when a sibling found a gun and fired while the parents were out of their car. And on Feb. 22, an 8-year-old girl was critically wounded in a Bremerton classroom when a gun fired inside the backpack of a 9-year-old boy as he put it on a desk.
The two deaths represent an uptick in the number of these tragic accidents, according to Washington state health officials.
About one accidental firearm death of a child each year is typical in the state, according to state health statistics gathered between 2007 and 2010, said Health Department spokesman Tim Church. During that same time, an average of nine kids 17 and younger ended up in the hospital because of an accidental shooting, Church added.