Raleigh, N.C. — Animal rights advocates maintain that legislators improperly granted a regulatory loophole to a Clay County business last month to allow it to conduct its annual Possum Drop on New Year's Eve.
People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and several Wake County residents filed suit Thursday against the state to void House Bill 1131, which exempts Clay County from any state wildlife regulations regarding "the capture, captivity, treatment, or release" of possums for one week each year – Dec. 26 to Jan. 2.
Clay Logan, a convenience store owner in the mountain community of Brasstown has created a New Year's Eve tradition for the town similar to the lowering of the crystal ball in New York's Time Square and the giant acorn in downtown Raleigh. The Possum Drop involves lowering an opossum in a Plexiglas box during the countdown to the new year.
PETA has repeatedly challenged the event, calling it cruel treatment of the nocturnal marsupial.
A judge two years ago ruled that the state Wildlife Resources Commission didn't have the authority to grant a permit for the event, prompting lawmakers last year to pass the so-called "Possum Right to Work Act" that allows the commission to issue a permit for the Possum Drop as long as Logan met certain requirements for trapping an opossum and keeping it in captivity.
PETA alleges in its latest lawsuit that Logan left an opossum that appeared at – but wasn't dropped – the Dec. 31, 2013, event unprotected in freezing weather and didn't provide proper veterinary care for the animal, both of which violated his captivity license.
Shortly after the group sought to have Logan's license revoked, Rep. Roger West, the Republican who represents Clay County, introduced House Bill 1131, according to the lawsuit. The bill was introduced May 20 and passed the House and the Senate within two weeks.
"In a display of utter irrationality, the General Assembly thus declared that the Possum Right to Work Act (among other laws) shall not apply to the Opossum Drop – even though that legislation was enacted one year earlier specifically in order to apply to the Opossum Drop," the suit states. "No new law was necessary to allow the Opossum Drop to proceed in a lawful manner."
The new legislation "creates a zone of lawlessness" in Clay County for the week after Christmas, the suit states, because the Wildlife Resources Commission won't be able to enforce dozens of regulations, from allowing people to hunt on private land without permission to using poison or steel-jaw traps to capture animals.
The suit alleges that the law also is unconstitutional because it grants "preferential exemptions from punishment and conveys exclusive privileges" to Logan for which someone living outside Clay County is ineligible.
By making House Bill 1131 retroactive to Dec. 30, 2013, lawmakers also immunized Logan from any punishment for the alleged violations of his captivity license last New Year's Eve, according to the lawsuit.
"Rewarding Logan for his demonstrated contempt for the law by immunizing him from the law, and to retroactively relieve him from the consequences of his false assurances to (the Wildlife Resources Commission) that he would conduct the Opossum Drop in a lawful manner, serves no legitimate State purpose," the suit states.