SACRAMENTO (AP) — A hotly contested bill that would ban the use of dogs to hunt bears and bobcats in California moved a step closer to becoming law.
The state Assembly approved SB12212 on a party-line vote after a lengthy debate, sending it back to the Senate for concurrence.
Proponents of the ban say dogs chase the animals until they are exhausted and climb trees, holding them until the hunter arrives.
Sen. Ted Lieu, D-Torrance, the bill's author, has likened the practice to "shooting a bear at a zoo."
On Wednesday, Democratic lawmakers called the use of hounds inhumane and unsportsmanlike, while Republican lawmakers representing rural areas framed the ban as an attack on Californians' right to hunt.
"There's a bigger agenda behind this bill, and that is to diminish, if not destroy, hunting in California," said Assemblyman Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber.
The legislation arose after a California fish and game commissioner used dogs to legally hunt and kill a mountain lion in Idaho. Supporters say dogs used for this type of hunting are sometimes mistreated, and call the practice unnecessary and fundamentally unfair.
"This is about a key issue of terrorizing wildlife unnecessarily," said Assemblyman Anthony Portantino, of La Canada-Flintridge. "It's about terrorizing a bear with no recourse but to be brutalized."
The proposed ban has sparked outrage in the hunting community. Hundreds of orange-shirted protesters have filled the Capitol several times as the legislation has moved through committees and between houses.
Opponents argue that California needs the $400,000 generated annually by hunting fees as it struggles with a budget deficit. They also note that use of hounds to tree bears is a practice dating back hundreds of years across the U.S. and Europe.
The bill was amended in the Assembly to include three narrow exceptions in which hound hunting will be allowed: to kill an animal that is causing a nuisance, to conduct research, and if an animal stumbles into a dog owner's property. It passed 44-29.
About 1,500 bears are killed by hunters each year in California, with less than half tracked with dogs. California issued about 4,500 tags to hunt bobcats last year and about 11 percent of the bobcats were killed with the use of dogs.
Two-thirds of states already ban the use of hounds to hunt bears, according to Lieu.