Michigan Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville, R-Monroe, talks with members of his caucus legislators pass a measure that would circumvent two anti-wolf hunting proposals on the November ballot and allow the continued hunting of the animals in the state. (Dale G. Young / The Detroit News)
Lansing —The Michigan Senate passed petition-initiated legislation Wednesday that would circumvent two anti-wolf hunting proposals on the November ballot and allow the continued hunting of the animals in the state.
The 23-10 vote Wednesday was led by majority Republicans and followed party lines.
The Senate’s approval sends the measure to the state House, which could take it up in an Aug. 27 session. A spokesman for House Speaker Jase Bolger, R-Marshall, said House Republican leaders haven’t yet decided if they want to hold a vote on it.
Democrats voted against the proposal, with Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer of East Lansing arguing it’s another example of the GOP majority working “to counteract voters’ intentions.”
Republican Sen. Mike Green of Mayville said the initiative will lead to decisions about hunting species that are “based on sound science,” not partisan politics.
The measure keeps the Natural Resources Commission, made up of governor’s appointees serving as citizen oversight of the state Department of Natural Resources, mostly in charge of decisions about what animals will be hunted in Michigan.
Michigan United Conservation Clubs, a member of the coalition that collected petition signatures, said the commission would share that responsibility with lawmakers under the proposal. It also gives the commission authority to issue fisheries orders and provides a $1 million “rapid-response” fund to battle aquatic invasive species.
Adding appropriations to bills has been used in the past to protect legislation from being overturned by voter petition-initiated referendums.
Matt Evans, legislative affairs manager for Michigan United Conservation Clubs, issued a statement calling the Senate vote “a significant step that recognizes the efforts of thousands of volunteers and hundreds of thousands of Michigan voters to ensure that sound science is the deciding factor in fish and wildlife conservation decisions.”
Lawmakers who want to continue wolf hunting are working against a deadline to pass the so-called Scientific Fish and Wildlife Conservation Act.
They must approve it by early September — within 40 days of July 24, the day state elections officials officially determined its backers collected enough petition signatures to force a vote — either by the Legislature or on the general election ballot.
The strategy by wolf hunting proponents is to pass the measure now, rather than risk having it defeated — and one of the anti-wolf hunting proposals passed — by the state’s electorate Nov. 4.
Under the Michigan Constitution, legislative passage makes it law without going to the ballot. Because it’s a proposal initiated by citizen signatures, Gov. Rick Snyder’s signature isn’t required, nor can he veto it.
The pro-hunting ballot effort was put together by Citizens for Professional Wildlife Management, which says state natural resources officials and game biologists should decide which animals are designated as game for hunting.
It would invalidate or cloud the status of two other petition-backed proposals — already scheduled for a Nov. 4 vote — seeking to ban wolf hunting.
Wolf hunt opponents last year collected enough signatures to mandate a referendum on 2012 legislation signed by Snyder allowing wolf hunting. A referendum gives voters a chance to overturn a law passed by the Legislature.
Sen. Tom Casperson, R-Escanaba, then led passage of a 2013 law, signed by Snyder, that transfers state game law authority from the Legislature to the Michigan Natural Resources Commission. The commission afterward approved the first state wolf hunt in 75 years.
The hunt, in three Upper Peninsula zones designated by natural resources officials, was intended to lead to the killing of no more than 43 wolves. Hunters slayed 23.
Keep Wolves Protected this spring turned in a second batch of petitions calling for a vote to overturn the 2013 law under which the wolf hunt was held.
But it may take a court case to determine if both anti-wolf-hunting ballot measures are meaningful or moot if the Republican-led legislation is approved.