There he goes again!
A bill sponsored by that veteran scourge of four-legged predators, state Senator Tom Casperson (R-Escanaba), is moving with lightning speed through the Legislature and could reach Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder’s desk by week’s end.
The measure (SB 1187) would resurrect wolf hunting in Michigan despite a litany of defeats for the gambit by the state’s voters and in the state and federal courts.
SB 1187 lacks bipartisan support. Casperson is relying almost entirely on votes from his fellow majority Republicans in both the House and Senate. Most Democrats in both chambers from the Lower Peninsula oppose it.
But state legislators from the Upper Peninsula of both parties have a long history of trying to exterminate both wolves and coyotes, whether by bounty or hunt.
Democrats like former state Senator Joe Mack (D-Ironwood), back in the 1950s, ’60s and ’70s, fought to keep state-sanctioned bounties on both wolves and coyotes long past the time when wildlife biologists had concluded the practice shouldn’t continue. Mack’s fellow lawmakers from the U.P regardless of party supported him. The bounty on wolves was terminated in 1960, and on coyotes (canis latrans) a couple of decades later, but year-round hunting of “yotes” was given renewed life just this year by the state Dept. of Natural Resources.
When it comes to the grey wolf, however — well, nothing provides a better case study of the ins-and-outs of the Michigan Constitution than what’s happened with canis lupis. And Republican Tom Casperson has become the legislative heir of Joe Mack in his relentless attempts to reinstitute wolf hunts in the U.P.
It all started four years ago when, after the gray wolf was removed from the federal Endangered Species list, the Legislature enacted Casperson’s Public Act 520 of 2012, giving Michigan’s Dept. of Natural Resources the authority to approve a wolf hunt. The DNR dutifully scheduled a limited wolf hunt, in a smattering of Upper Peninsula counties, for the fall of 2013.
But then the Humane Society of the United States (HSUS) made the protection of the grey wolf into its cause celebre. HSUS launched a petition drive to force a referendum on PA 520. Michigan’s current constitution provides that if a number of signatures is collected that equals at least 5% of the total vote cast for governor in the last election (163,410), a statewide vote on the law must be held before it can take effect, and that the act itself is suspended unless or until voters approve the new statute. Thus, PA 520 was held in abeyance until Nov. 14, 2014.
But Casperson had only begun to fight. A 2000 Michigan Court of Appeals decision (Reynolds v Martin) held that the Legislature has the inherent power to enact legislation on any subject regardless of whether there is a pending referendum on the same subject. So Casperson introduced a new bill that would de facto enact most of the provisions of PA 520. The senator also wanted to insert an appropriation into the measure to take advantage of a proviso in the Michigan constitution (Article II, Section 9) saying that a statutory appropriation could not be subject to referendum. However, House Speaker Jase Bolger (R-Albion) was skittish about allowing appropriation language to be part of the bill because of the blowback from the news media and the general public about a similar strategy used by gun rights legislators in 2001 involving concealed carry of weapons (CCW).
So Casperson’s new bill was also enacted without appropriations language, becoming PA 21 of 2013. Again, HSUS reacted fiercely, launching a second petition drive aimed at forcing a referendum on PA 21. Again, HSUS succeeded, and now a second question on the same subject with nearly the same practical effect was ticketed for the general election ballot in November, 2014.
However, before the second referendum could be certified by the state, thus suspending the law pending voter approval, the DNR snuck in a limited hunt in the fall of 2013 in which 23 wolves were killed (a paltry number out of an estimated wolf population of more than 600). Similar hunts were also held in Wisconsin and Minnesota. But would there ever be another hunt in Michigan?
Now a new antagonist entered the fray — the Michigan United Conservation Clubs (MUCC). This powerful sportmen’s organization realized that Michigan is one of only nine states across the nation that has a constitutional provision allowing for indirect statutory initiative. This clause states that if a number of signatures is collected that is equal to at least 8% of the total vote cast for governor in the last previous election (261,456), the issue in question must be transmitted to the Legislature, which has 40 session days to either enact, reject or place an alternative piece of legislation on the ballot for voter approval. If the Legislature fails to act, the measure automatically goes on the statewide ballot in the next general election. Such an initiative does not require the signature of the governor (Snyder had signed both of the referendum bills).
Accordingly, MUCC drafted an initiative that empowered the DNR to be the sole designator of what animals are listed as game species, how they can be hunted, and how wildlife is managed in the state. The proposed statute contained a $1 million appropriation to the DNR; it also allowed for free hunting, trapping and fishing licenses for members of the military (remember this!)
The MUCC coalition turned in approximately 374,000 signatures on May 27, 2014. After the Board of State Canvassers certified them, the re-energized Casperson whipped the initiative through the Legislature, 23-10 in the Senate and 65-53 in the House, with an increasing number of Democrats opposing, not only because they were less pro-gun than their Republican counterparts but because they eschewed still another “end-run” around voters’ wishes and wanted to see what the electorate would decide in November. Bottom line: the MUCC’s initiative became PA 281 of 2014.
Many voters had this entire saga in mind when they went to the polls two years ago. Maybe that’s why, on Nov. 4, 2014, they rejected both of Casperson’s wolf hunt measures, PA 350 as well as PA 21.
Then came an unexpected curve ball, abetted by HSUS — in late December of 2014, a federal district court in the District of Columbia restored the grey wolf to the Endangered Species list. While that ruling is still on appeal, in the meantime wolf hunting cannot resume in Michigan no matter what the state Legislature or the DNR wants to do. That meant no wolf hunt in 2015 or 2016 (none was held in 2014, either, because of the pending referenda).
But the HSUS was leaving nothing to chance. Its next move was to attack the initiated law in state court. This was undertaken in case the wolf is ever removed from the federal Endangered Species list.
In the initial court test, a state Court of Claims judge, Mark Boonstra, rejected the HSUS claims that signers of the initiative petition were misled by circulators. He also brushed aside other constitutional issues raised in the complaint.
Predictably, HSUS appealed to the state Court of Appeals. Shockingly, in a unanimous ruling handed down last month (11/24), a three-judge panel found PA 281 (the MUCC’s initiative) unconstitutional because it violated the “single subject” clause of Article IV, Section 24, of the state Constitution: “No law shall embrace more than one subject, which shall be expressed in its title.”
The appellate panel observed that a provision of PA 281 that allowed for free hunting, trapping and fishing licenses for the military (we told you to remember that!) had nothing whatsoever to do with the law’s stated object of providing for “scientific management of game, fish and wildlife habitat.” The panel concluded that the entire statute must be struck down because it isn’t clear the law would have been approved if that provision had not been included.
Lansing-based Bob LaBrant, senior counsel at the Sterling Corporation, contends this ruling may well be the most significant “single subject” violation since the Michigan Supreme Court struck down the Political Reform Act of 1975 in an advisory opinion because that statute had three subjects (campaign finance, lobbying regulation and government ethics), not one.
Now Casperson, who lost a Congressional bid in the Aug. 2 GOP primary, has moved quickly to correct the “single subject” violation by removing the “free licenses to the military” section. Introduced on Dec. 1, Casperson’s SB 1187 whipped through the Senate on a party-line 27-10 vote (Democrats opposing) on Dec. 8. The bill was quickly transmitted to the House to allow the measure to lay over the required five days (Article IV, Section 26). The House immediately assigned SB 1187 to the House Natural Resources Committee, which reported it out on an 8-1 vote. So the bill is set up for final action during the final week of the lame duck session scheduled to end this coming Thursday, Dec. 15.
Here’s the only remaining question: If and when Casperson’s latest assault on canis lupis gets through both chambers as expected, will Rick Snyder actually sign it? Yes, the governor approved earlier incarnations, but now Snyder knows that wolf hunts have been rejected twice apiece by both voters and the courts, not to mention the executive branch of the federal government.
Could Snyder decide that Casperson & Co. should finally take “No” for an answer?