Raleigh, N.C. — The possum issue just won't play dead.
Lawmakers are once again working on a bill that would allow the proprietor of Clay's Corner in Brasstown to continue a two-decades-old tradition of lowering a possum on New Year's Eve. The House voted 94-18 in favor of the measure Wednesday, sending it to the Senate.
Over the past six years, the state Wildlife Resources Commission, Clay's corner owner Clay Logan and People for Ethical Treatment of Animals have taken the issue to administrative hearings, Superior Court and the halls of the legislature. Backers of the event say it's a harmless bit of annual fun and the animal is well-treated. PETA has argued that capturing the animal is cruel, that the celebration noise probably terrorizes it and that it could end up disoriented or dead after its release.
The 2014 version of the bill simply exempted Clay County from North Carolina wildlife laws pertaining to possums during the end-of-the-year festivities. But opponents argued North Carolina's constitution does not allow the state to carve out a "a zone of lawlessness" in just one county when it comes to wildlife.
So, this year House Bill 574 creates at five-day window – Dec. 29 through Jan. 2 – during which state wildlife laws pertaining to the capture and treatment of animals don't apply to possums, no matter where they may be in North Carolina.
That, in theory, would create the potential for a Possum Drop in all 100 of North Carolina's counties.
Although the subject of the Possum Drop has become something of a running gag among lawmakers, support for the measure is not unanimous.
Rep. Pricey Harrison, D-Guilford, said the measure made it legal for possums to be "tortured, burned or skinned alive by anyone in the state" during the New Year's window.
Other lawmakers insisted that the possum in question was well-treated.
"It's not dropped. It's not harmed in any way. ... They actually groom the little critter. He actually is fed very well," said Rep. Pat McElraft, R-Carteret, who has a reputation as an animal lover. "We need to bring some balance to this. We don't need PETA coming in here and telling this community, 'No, you can't do this.'"
Harrison said that, while one possum may be in luck, the measure would open all possums to abuse.
In the end, only 17 Democrats and Republican Rep. Rayne Brown of Davidson voted against the measure. It now goes to the Senate.