New House bill would prohibit lawmakers from sleeping in offices

WASHINGTON — Democratic Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi introduced a bill Thursday to prohibit House members from sleeping overnight in their congressional offices as a way to save money.

The bill also would grant members a tax deduction for living expenses so they can better afford to make second homes in Washington during the work week while they’re away from their home districts.

Roughly 40 to 100 lawmakers currently sleep in their offices, Politico previously reported, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin, who pulls out a cot each night in his Longworth House Office Building office. The House GOP’s second-in-line man, Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California, also sleeps in his office.

Ryan’s office indicated Thursday the speaker would not support the bill over the provision granting a tax deduction to members for living expenses.

“The speaker does not believe members need additional taxpayer money for housing,” Ryan spokeswoman AshLee Strong said in an email.

Thirty members of the Congressional Black Caucus sent a letter on Dec. 13 to the House Ethics Committee raising questions over sanitation and the special privileges inherent in staying overnight in congressional offices.

It may even violate House rules and federal law, they argued.

“Members who sleep overnight in their offices receive free lodging, free cable, free security, free cleaning services, and utilize other utilities free of charge in direct violation of the ethics rules which prohibit official resources from being used for personal purposes,” the letter states.

—CQ Roll Call

Explosive eruption occurs at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano, with warning of ash plume

An explosive eruption occurred at Hawaii’s Kilauea volcano Thursday, officials said, and authorities warned that an ash plume is expected to cover the surrounding area.

The ash plume rose as high as 30,000 feet and is drifting to northeast over the Big Island of Hawaii, and could reach its largest populated area in Hilo, about 25 miles northeast of the volcano summit, Hawaii County officials and the U.S. Geological Survey said. “You should shelter in place if you are in the path of the ash plume,” county officials said.

Ash is primarily a nuisance and can irritate the eyes, cause breathing problems, reduce visibility, make roadways slippery, and interfere with electrical lines. Fine ash particles are generally a millimeter or less in size.

The explosive eruption occurred at 4:17 a.m. Hawaiian time (7:17 a.m. PDT), and forced the closure of half a dozen schools due to elevated levels of sulfur dioxide, a toxic gas, Hawaii County officials announced.

The area southeast of Kilauea volcano’s summit is in a rural, remote part of Hawaii Island on its eastern edge, far from any major resort areas. The closest resorts, in Kona and the Kohala Coast, are more than 100 miles away on the west side of the island.

The USGS posted webcam footage of an ash plume billowing from Kilauea’s summit, and a plume of ash from an observation tower.

USGS officials last week said they did not expect evacuations or significant damage from explosive eruptions at Kilauea’s summit because it is so far away from populated areas. Leilani Estates, the small neighborhood that has been affected by lava flows this month that have destroyed homes and other structures, is 25 miles east of the volcano’s highest point.

—Los Angeles Times

SDSU to keep Aztec name following racially and politically charged debate

SAN DIEGO — San Diego State University will keep the word Aztec as its nickname but create a more culturally sensitive version of its mascot in a decision that reflects nearly 20 years of racially charged debate about how the school treats indigenous people.

“The Aztec Warrior … will be retained, but as Spirit Leader, not mascot,” interim SDSU President Sally Roush told The San Diego Union-Tribune on Tuesday.

“We just expect a much more dignified and appropriate demeanor from that person. You won’t see the Aztec Warrior doing pushups in the end zone. You won’t see the Aztec Warrior dancing with the cheerleaders.”

Her action is part of a larger movement in the United States in which everyone from small high schools to big universities and Major League Baseball teams have tweaked or dropped nicknames and mascots that were regarded as culturally unacceptable.

Roush largely based her decision on the work of a 17-member task force of faculty, students, alumni and community leaders who explored whether the school’s use of Aztec is culturally insensitive, if not racist. Many critics have made those claims, including an SDSU lecturer who points out that the Aztecs never lived in the southwestern United States. They were from central Mexico.

The task force report led Roush to decide that the words Monty and Zuma can no longer be used in name of awards by the university. The nicknames represent the breaking apart of the word Montezuma, which Roush said is “very disrespectful of the emperor of the Aztec civilization.”

Adela de la Torre, a social justice expert who will become SDSU’s permanent president in late June, has read the report and agrees with Roush’s decisions, the university said.

—The San Diego Union-Tribune

Trump administration orders more Iran sanctions after quitting nuclear deal

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is ratcheting up sanctions on Iran following the president’s withdrawal from the 2015 international accord that curbed Tehran’s ability to develop nuclear weapons.

The Treasury Department on Thursday blacklisted two individuals and five companies in the Middle East, Africa and Europe that it said were financing the Iran-backed Hezbollah militant group based in Lebanon.

The sanctions mean any assets that the persons or companies might have in the United States or in U.S. institutions will be frozen, and Americans cannot do business with the targets.

Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin identified one of the individuals as Mohammad Ibrahim Bazzi, whom he described as a financier who uses drug trafficking deals and money laundering to help fund Hezbollah.

“This action highlights the duplicity and disgraceful conduct of Hezbollah and its Iranian backers,” Mnuchin said. “This administration will expose and disrupt Hezbollah and Iranian terror networks at every turn.”

This was the administration’s third punitive action this week against Iran or entities associated with the country, including the blacklisting Tuesday of Valiollah Seif, governor of the Central Bank of Iran.

In that case, non-Americans around the world as well as Americans were barred from doing business with him through a mechanism known as secondary sanctions.

The sanctions come in the wake of Trump’s announcement May 9 that he was pulling the United States out of the nuclear deal with Iran. Trump said the accord was not sufficiently tough on Tehran and said he would reimpose a raft of economic penalties aimed at tightening pressure on Tehran.

The move estranged the Trump administration from England, France and Germany, which also signed the nuclear deal and still support it.

—Tribune Washington Bureau