LANSING (AP) - The Republican-led state Senate approved legislation today that would block a group's effort to ban wolf hunting in Michigan.
Legislation passed on a 25 to 11 vote Thursday would empower the Natural Resources Commission to decide which types of wildlife could be hunted. If signed into law, the measure effectively renders meaningless a potential statewide vote next year on overturning the Legislature's designation of wolves as a game species.
Lawmakers say wolf hunting is necessary to ensure the safety of citizens and livestock in rural areas where the wolf population is larger. But opponents say the measure is an attempt by lawmakers to suppress the voice of the people.
Currently, only the Legislature has the power to designate a game species, but under the proposal passed Wednesday, the seven-member regulatory panel appointed by the governor would also have that power. The legislation originally included a $1 million appropriation, which means under Michigan law that it cannot be placed on a ballot. That language was removed from the bill Thursday.
Lawmakers approved the measure designating wolves as a game species last year. Earlier this month, opponents gathered the more than 240,000 signatures necessary to request a statewide vote on whether the animals should be hunted. If a certain number of the signatures are considered valid, wolf hunting would be suspended until a vote is held in 2014.
But if the bill passed by the Senate Thursday - which now heads to the House - is signed by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, even if voters strike down wolf hunting in 2014, the NRC could approve wolf hunting anyway.
Jill Fritz, the director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, the group backing the proposed referendum, told the more than 100 opponents protesting the bill on the steps of the Capitol Tuesday that the measure is an "extreme power grab by politicians or a deliberate attempt to subvert democracy and silence the voice of Michigan voters."