MADISON, Wis. (AP) -

The state Senate has started to debate a divisive Republican bill that would rework Wisconsin's mining regulations.

The proposal is designed to ease the regulatory path for a huge iron mine near Lake Superior. Republicans maintain the mine will create hundreds of jobs.

Democrats began debate on the Senate floor Wednesday by contending the bill relaxes environmental protections. Members of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior, whose reservation lies just north of the mining site, gathered in a hearing room down the hall from the Senate chamber in a show of opposition.

Republicans control the Senate, making passage all but inevitable. The Republican-controlled Assembly is expected to approve the bill next week and send it on to Gov. Scott Walker for his signature.