SACRAMENTO -- A proposed law to prevent the needless killing of mountain lions by state wardens cleared the Legislature on Monday and now awaits the approval of Gov. Jerry Brown.

The legislation by state Sen. Jerry Hill, D-San Mateo, would give California Department of Fish and Wildlife wardens broader authority to pursue nonlethal measures, such as trapping or tranquilizing, when dealing with lions that are spotted in residential areas. It was inspired by the fatal shooting Dec. 1 of two cubs as they huddled under the porch of a home in Half Moon Bay.

Fish and Wildlife Director Charlton Bonhom approved new guidelines for wardens in March that achieve similar ends. If signed by the governor, Hill's proposal would reinforce those changes, codifying the internal protocols as state law.

"I don't think there's anybody in this building," Hill said Monday, "that wants to kill mountain lions unless they're posing a threat to humans."

The department received heavy criticism for its handling of the Half Moon Bay incident. Officials initially defended the decision to kill the animals, labeling the cubs 25- to 30-pound "subadults," but backtracked after an autopsy revealed they were starving, 13- to 14-pound kittens.

Tim Dunbar, executive director of the nonprofit Mountain Lion Foundation, said SB 132 is the most significant move to protect cougars in more than two decades.

"We may see it as a model for us pushing this same type of consideration in other states," he said.

Voters in 1990 passed Proposition 117, a ballot measure that outlawed hunting mountain lions but left Fish and Wildlife with wide discretion to interpret the public safety threats posed by wayward lions. As a result, critics say, wardens often killed animals that weren't dangerous.

Hill called the rules an insensitive approach to a problem that will only grow as human development further encroaches on cougar habitat. His legislation would authorize Fish and Wildlife to work with wildlife rescue operations, humane societies and other nongovernmental groups in capturing, rehabilitating or scaring off mountain lions found in populated areas.

Dunbar said Fish and Wildlife's new guidelines, which created "response guidance teams" for assessing such encounters, have already saved the lives of three lions, including a young cougar that got trapped in May inside a Santa Cruz canal.

Proposition 117 requires that any amendments to the measure must get the approval of four-fifths of the Assembly and Senate. SB 132 passed the Assembly unanimously and cleared the Senate 35-2, according to Hill's office.

Contact Aaron Kinney at 650-348-4357. Follow him at Twitter.com/kinneytimes.