BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — Lawmakers in the House backed a proposal Monday declaring that fox pen hunting is part of Louisiana's folklife heritage and should be preserved, despite criticism the state would be giving special status to a "blood sport."

The House voted 68-16 to approve the measure by Rep. Sherman Mack, R-Livingston, who called fox pen hunting part of the state's culture.

The sport involves fenced-in preserves where hunting dogs are trained to pursue foxes.

Rep. James Armes, a Democrat from Leesville who spoke on behalf of the measure, said the sport goes back to Charlemagne and has been practiced in Louisiana for years. He said hunters come here to enjoy the state "known as the sportsman's paradise."

Opponents described the practice as a cruel sport in which a fox is run down by dozens of dogs that attack it until it dies. They said legislative support would give Louisiana a bad image.

"Slavery is part of our heritage, but we're not going to give that an honorary designation," said Rep. Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, one of the chief critics of the bill.

Rep. Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, said he grew up with the sport and has never seen dogs tearing up a fox. Mack said in Louisiana the foxes are chased up a tree and aren't killed.

Landry pushed lawmakers to keep her earlier amendment that would have required approval of the designation from the state's folklife heritage commission, but the House stripped that requirement.

"Why don't we want the folklife commission involved?" Landry asked.

Schexnayder said getting the commission involved was unnecessary.

Mack urged support for his bill by asking representatives to think of their hunting constituents.

"The hunters in your district will appreciate your yea vote," he said.

The measure moves next to the Senate for consideration.

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