LANSING (AP) - The Republican-led Michigan Senate on Wednesday voted to keep intact the state's power to allow wolf hunts, approving a bill designed to keep voters from stopping future hunts in referendums in November.
The initiated legislation was proposed by hunting and outdoor groups that collected hundreds of thousands of voter signatures.
It would make moot two statewide votes forced by animal rights organizations that oppose hunting the once-endangered and now resurgent gray wolf in the Upper Peninsula.
Before the Senate's 23-10 vote almost entirely along party lines, Democrats decried the move as circumventing direct democracy and said majority Republicans should let the bill go to the ballot.
Republicans said the legislation reaffirms the previous wishes of voters who approved a 1996 law giving the Natural Resources Commission authority to set hunting policy based on scientific data.
"There are ballot initiatives supporting both sides of the argument and they're intended to let the people decide. ... We should be debating why the desires of people who want to kill wolves should outweigh the rights of those who don't," said Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, an East Lansing Democrat.
The GOP-controlled House is expected to meet Aug. 27 to consider the bill.
The measure does not need Republican Gov. Rick Snyder's signature because it was initiated by outside groups.
"The people that are living with the wolves want a scientific, managed policy in place," said Sen. Howard Walker, a Traverse City Republican who represents part of the U.P. "I would dare say that if wolves were populating the Lower Peninsula we would have a lot more concern in the Lower Peninsula."
Last year, the Natural Resources Commission scheduled Michigan's first wolf hunt in decades under authority granted by legislators. Opponents had gathered enough voter signatures to require a referendum on a law approved in December 2012 that designated the gray wolf a game animal.
So the Legislature passed and Snyder signed a law in May 2013 letting the commission decide which animals should be designated as species that can be hunted, prompting opponents to collect enough signatures this year for a second referendum.