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Watered down ‘birther’ bill advances

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Barack Obama. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Legislation requiring presidential candidates to submit proof of citizenship before appearing on the Arizona ballot is advancing in the Senate, though it has been stripped of its most controversial provision and has been substantially tweaked since the original version died in committee in February.

Today, the legislation received the green light from the Senate Rules Committee.

The bill is now ready to be debated and voted on the Senate floor, pending discussion in the Republican and Democratic caucuses.

The measure has its roots in a conspiracy theory popular in some Republican circles that President Barack Obama is not a natural-born citizen. Under the U.S. Constitution, only natural-born citizens may run for the country’s highest office. The circumstances surrounding Obama’s birth became an issue during the 2008 elections, and his campaign released a copy of a certificate of live birth from Hawaii as evidence he was born in the United States.

Backers said the bill would help avoid similar controversies in the future, though nearly all have stopped short of saying they question whether Obama is qualified to be president.

Officials in Hawaii have confirmed Obama’s birth certificate several times. But that hasn’t deterred some — the so-called “birthers” — from claiming he was born in Kenya, that his birth certificate is a forgery and that he’s therefore ineligible to run for office.

But unlike the original legislation, HB2177 doesn’t require a sworn statement attesting that the candidate’ two parents were American citizens at the time of birth.

It also doesn’t require a declaration saying the candidate has not held dual citizenship and that his or her allegiance is “solely to the United States of America.”

By deleting these provisions, the legislation’s backers hope to increase its chances of success and to avoid the fate of the birthright bills that the Senate killed on March 17. Those bills had sought to tie citizenship to the child’s parentage rather than the place of birth.

Sen. Ron Gould, R-Lake Havasu City, author of the Senate version — SB1526 — that died in the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he’ll settle for some if he can’t get all of the bill’s provisions.

“I would like to actually get it out,” he said. “At least that makes people show their birth certificate.”

As amended, the “birther” legislation mandates presidential candidates produce a certified copy of their long form birth certificate and a statement of where they have lived in the U.S. during the preceding 14 years.

Under the bill, if the candidates can’t produce these documents, Arizona’s secretary of state can’t place their names on the ballot.

Also, the candidates’ names may be excluded from the ballot if the secretary of state believes the documents submitted show they do not meet the qualifications to run for the country’s highest office.

Critics have argued that the bill oversteps the state’s authority by demanding that presidential candidates produce additional documents not currently required.

“What the bill does is place burdens that are not detailed by Article 2, Section 1 (of the U.S. Constitution). So, it exceeds our authority,” said Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Phoenix.

Sinema said not all natural-born American citizens have birth certificates. She also said giving the secretary of state the authority to deny a name from appearing on the presidential ballot is problematic.

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