Profanity-laced recording of NC senator's meeting cited in death of puppy mill bill

State Senate leaders said Monday they plan to kill legislation that would regulate so-called puppy mills in North Carolina after an audiotape leaked of a top Republican senator criticizing the bill and the House lawmakers who passed it last year.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — State Senate leaders said Monday they plan to kill legislation that would regulate so-called puppy mills in North Carolina after an audiotape leaked of a top Republican senator criticizing the bill and the House lawmakers who passed it last year.

Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, met Jan. 16 in his district with constituents to discuss House Bill 930, which sets minimum animal care standards for commercial dog breeders in the state.

The House passed the bill last May with the support of Gov. Pat McCrory and first lady Ann McCrory, but it hasn't yet been acted upon by the Senate. The governor last week listed passage of the legislation among his 2014 priorities.

Rabon, however, told constituents during a profanity-laced, 90-minute meeting that the bill was dead on arrival last year. He said the Senate had already decided not to act on the bill in the General Assembly's upcoming short session.

“That bill is not going to pass,” Rabon told the group. “Angels in heaven cannot make that bill pass."

WRAL News obtained a recording of meeting, and its authenticity was verified by two people who attended the meeting. 

Rabon, a veterinarian, said he believes House Bill 930 is too weak. He said its standards for humane treatment could too easily be interpreted by a judge to apply to livestock as well as pets.

“It can’t spill over to the animal husbandry in this state, which is an $80 billion industry – larger than the other top five industries in the state,” he said. “There is a LOT of money involved."

He told the group he would introduce a stronger bill in the future, but he wouldn’t give a date or year.

”When I do it, it will be done at the right time, and it will pass,” he said. “I’m in the top five members in power in the Senate. The best shot you folks have ever had, you’re talking to."

Brunswick Sheriff John Ingram, who also attended the meeting, asked Rabon whether a stronger bill would be able to pass the House as well as the Senate.

“If it’s sponsored by me, 100 percent,” Rabon responded. “It’s that simple, folks. I don’t mean to brag.”

Rabon, who did not respond to repeated requests for an interview, used an obscene term to refer to House lawmakers for passing the legislation.

“We were informed that that bill would never leave the House,” he said. “They [the House] are a bunch of (expletive). They got political heat. They said, ‘We can no longer sit on this. We know the Senate will not pass it because it’s a piece of crap, so we’ll send it to them, and they’ll take the heat.’ Ladies and gentlemen, that is politics 101.”

Rabon also accused the governor and first lady of improperly advocating for the bill in the House.

“It was bullied out of committee by the executive branch," he said. "The executive branch had absolutely, absolutely no business sticking its nose in the legislature on that sort of issue."

He claimed that Ann McCrory's advocacy, including a visit to the House chamber to watch the May 9 vote, was “against all laws.”

“There is a strong line between opinion and lobbying,” Rabon said. “When you pick up the phone and you are in a position of power and call individual legislators and offer advice or praise or this or that, you are, under the law, lobbying, and you must be a registered lobbyist in this state to do that.”

North Carolina law allows citizens to lobby lawmakers as a function of the First Amendment. People who are not being paid or employed to lobby do not have to register as lobbyists.

“That’s indirect, I guess you could call it, lobbying, but it’s not breaking any statute or breaking any law," said Common Cause North Carolina director Bob Phillips, who was in the House gallery when Ann McCrory visited. "Any citizen is free to come in and observe and lobby."

Senate Rules Chairman Tom Apodaca blamed the decision to kill the puppy mill bill on the people who leaked the recording of Rabon's meeting, calling it "the unethical and unacceptable tactics of an overzealous few.”

“It is wrong to secretly record private conversations with members of the General Assembly and then threaten to expose those conversations to the media to force legislators to meet specific demands,” said Apodaca, R-Henderson. “That is nothing short of political extortion and represents a new low in lobbying for legislative action. To dignify those actions by moving ahead on this issue would set a dangerous precedent while condoning and encouraging these unethical tactics.”

Janie Withers, the person who recorded Rabon's Jan. 16 meeting, said the recording wasn't a secret. The tape recorder was sitting in plain view on the bench beside her, she said, adding that she believes Rabon was aware it was there.

Withers said she tapes most meetings she attends so she doesn't misquote people later. She said she wasn’t out to get Rabon.

“I did not tape the meeting an an attempt to air our dirty laundry in Brunswick County,” she said.

Cheri McLain, who rescues animals in the Brunswick County area and also attended the Jan. 16 meeting, said she and others who want the state to regulate puppy mills have been seeking a meeting with Rabon for four years but have been unable to get their calls and messages returned.

“I knew that Sen. Rabon did not support H930, the puppy mill bill. I just didn’t realize to what extent he didn’t support it,” McLain said. “I was actually very surprised that he used so much profanity, considering there were so many women in the room.”

Gov. McCrory addressed the debate at an event in Wilmington Monday afternoon.

“Just because someone uses foolish tactics, there is no reason to stop good legislation which needs to be passed here in North Carolina," he told reporters. "It was a disgusting tactic, whoever recorded Sen. Rabon. I am also disappointed in the type of dialogue, and my wife and I will stay above that type of dialogue.”


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