A bill filed in the House Monday would clear the way for Brasstown, NC, to resume using a live possum in its New Year's Eve Possum Drop celebration.
Clay Logan, the proprietor of Clay's Corner in Brasstown, started the tradition 20 years ago. But a ruling by a state administrative judge left Logan without a live star in 2012.
Animal rights group PETA filed suit against the state and Logan, arguing that state law doesn't allow the Department of Environment and Natural Resources to issue a permit to someone to trap, keep, drop, and release a wild animal, as it did for Logan in 2011. Current law allows only licensed wildlife rehabilitators to possess live wild animals.
The possum, by the way, isn't actually dropped - it's lowered in a plexiglass cage at the stroke of midnight. But PETA argued it's still cruel and disorienting to the animal, which could be held captive for weeks before the big show and then released into unfamiliar territory.
Administrative Judge Fred Morrison ruled in PETA's favor last fall, finding that DENR doesn't have the authority to issue a special permit for the possum drop, and saying the agency would have to get the General Assembly to pass legislation allowing such permits.
The festival went on in December, but the crate was shrouded, obscuring what was in it. Logan wouldn't say whether he had had to resort to a stuffed possum instead.
Last Friday, the state filed for dismissal of the PETA lawsuit, saying it wouldn't contest it.
House Bill 66 would give DENR authority to issue long-term licenses or short-term permits to possess wild animals " for scientific, educational, or exhibition purposes," as long as they're kept humanely. That would cover a variety of instances, including the Possum Drop.
The bill's main sponsor is Rep. Roger West, who represents Brasstown. Other sponsors include House Speaker Thom Tillis and Rules Chairman Tim Moore, as well as Bladen Democrat Bill Brisson and Cumberland Democrat Marvin Lucas.