By JACQUES BILLEAUD, Associated Press
PHOENIX (AP) — 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.
In the past, political parties drafted their own certification documents that Arizona officials say didn't consistently address the issue of qualifications.
"There has been a lot of media attention devoted to this, so we wanted to make sure there is a standardized form," said Matthew Roberts, a spokesman for Arizona Secretary of State Ken Bennett.
It's unclear whether other states require such forms. Attempts by The Associated Press to reach Democratic National Committee officials for comment were not immediately successful.
The controversy over the validity of Obama's birth certificate and eligibility — started by what critics call the "birther movement" — gained steam in Arizona last year when the Legislature passed a bill requiring presidential candidates to prove their citizenship before their names can appear on the state's ballot.
The proposal was vetoed by Republican Gov. Jan Brewer, who called the measure "a bridge too far."
Recently, Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, whose immigration patrols have generated a political firestorm and are the subject of a federal lawsuit, brought new attention to the controversy.
Arpaio this month said an investigation conducted by a volunteer posse revealed probable cause to suspect Obama's birth certificate is a forgery. Days later, it was revealed that Arpaio's lead investigator was selling his report on the investigation as a book.
The controversy has been widely debunked, yet remains alive for some conservatives who maintain that Obama is ineligible to hold the nation's highest office because, they contend, he was born in Kenya, his father's homeland.
Hawaii officials have regularly verified Obama's citizenship, and the White House released a copy of the president's long-form birth certificate in April in an attempt to quell the issue. Courts also have rebuffed lawsuits over the issue.
The latest legislative effort in Arizona to confront Obama's eligibility would require political parties to file an affidavit swearing under penalty of perjury that their presidential and vice presidential candidates are qualified to hold the positions. It also would let any voter in Arizona file a lawsuit challenging an affidavit.
If it were to get the governor's signature, the requirements of the bill would apply to this year's presidential contest. Brewer spokesman Matthew Benson declined to say whether the governor would sign the bill if it clears the Legislature.
Republican Rep. Carl Seel of Phoenix, the author of last year's vetoed bill and this year's measure, said a similar requirement would apply to all candidates for public office in Arizona and ensure the integrity of all races.
"It's about all candidates and preserving the integrity of our ballot for all candidates," Seel said shortly before the Senate's government reform committee approved his bill on a 4-2 vote.
The bill faces a vote by one more Senate committee. Then, if it's approved by the full Senate, it heads to the state House for consideration.
Democratic Sen. David Lujan of Phoenix, who voted against the bill, rejected Seel's arguments, saying, "It's clear from Rep. Seel's comments in committee that he still wants to challenge the validity of President Obama's birth certificate even though I, and — I believe — the vast majority of Americans, believe the issue is settled."
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