- Associated Press - Sunday, August 10, 2014

LANSING, Mich. (AP) - Michigan lawmakers on Wednesday are expected to pass a law to keep intact the state’s power to allow wolf hunts, overriding two referendums on the November ballot backed by groups that oppose hunting the once-endangered animal.

The pending move not only is sparking debate over whether a wolf hunt should be held for the second straight year. It also is reviving questions over the extent to which the Republican-controlled Legislature should interfere with issues headed to a statewide vote.

In May, legislators approved a minimum wage increase to head off a ballot initiative that would have raised the hourly minimum more, particularly for tipped employees. Election officials later ruled that proponents had not collected enough valid petition signatures regardless.

In December 2012, lawmakers passed a replacement for an emergency manager law struck down by voters in a referendum a month before.

The proposal before the Legislature now - initiated legislation backed by various outdoor and hunting groups that gathered voter signatures - is designed to make moot November referendums on two laws that cleared the way for Michigan’s first wolf hunt in decades.

The Natural Resources Commission scheduled the hunt under authority granted by the Legislature last year. Opponents had gathered enough voter signatures to require a referendum on a game species law approved in December 2012.

Gov. Rick Snyder then signed a second law in May 2013 giving the commission the authority to decide which animals should be designated as species that can be hunted, prompting opponents to collect enough signatures this year for a second referendum after the hunt was held.

“It’s enormously contemptuous of voters,” Jill Fritz, director of Keep Michigan Wolves Protected, said of the Legislature’s expected approval of the new legislation. “They don’t trust the voters to make the decision on whether wolves should be a game species or not. They’ve basically shown contempt for the intelligence of voters, the very voters who by the way voted them into office.”

But Sen. Tom Casperson, an Escanaba Republican who strongly supports the initiated bill, said the latest bill also was citizen-initiated and a lot is at stake for hunters in general - not just those who killed 22 wolves in the Upper Peninsula in the first managed hunt last November and December. The NRC had authorized a take of 43.

The measure - like one of the laws subject to referendum - would carry out the wishes of voters who approved a 1996 ballot initiative giving the commission, whose members are appointed by the governor and serve staggered terms, authority to set hunting policy in Michigan based on scientific data, Casperson said.

“The United State Humane Society has an awful lot of money,” he said, warning that if the hunting laws were repealed in November, the group could be emboldened to challenge other hunting-related decisions by the commission. “I get concerned that they could pour enough money in with 30-second sound bites … and I can’t say people would get the whole story.”

The anti-wolf hunt ballot group has spent nearly $1.1 million on signature gathering and other expenses. The pro-hunting ballot committee has spent more than $700,000.

Pro-hunting and farm groups contend the opposition to wolf hunting is fueled by out-of-state animal rights groups that want to ban all hunting. Opponents acknowledge receiving support from elsewhere but insist their movement is home-grown.

In recent days, there have been reports that four hunting dogs and a cow died after three separate wolf attacks in the U.P. Foes of wolf hunting say farmers and government officials already have the right to kill problem wolves without needing an authorized hunt.

The Board of State Canvassers certified the initiative petition on July 24. The Legislature has until Sept. 2 to vote or it will be placed on the November ballot, according to the nonpartisan House Fiscal Agency.

The Senate’s only session day before the deadline is Wednesday. The House meets Wednesday and Aug. 27. Because the bill was a citizens’ initiative, it would not need Snyder’s signature.

The measure would allocate $1 million for “rapid response” activities against aquatic invasive species such as Asian carp. Tacking on the appropriation would make the legislation immune from being overturned in a referendum.

Keep Michigan Wolves Protected is not ruling out legal action assuming the Legislature approves the law this month, Fritz said.

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Follow David Eggert on Twitter at https://twitter.com/DavidEggert00

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