RALEIGH — With North Carolina’s legislature taking up a bill involving the fate of captive marsupials, a pair of lawmakers figured they might as well have some fun.
The “Opossum Right-to-Work Act” introduced Wednesday in the state Senate is identical to a House bill introduced earlier this week — except for the tongue-in-cheek title.
The measure gives the state Wildlife Resources Commission the explicit authority to permit the organizer of a New Year’s Eve Possum Drop to display a wild-caught animal. By tradition, the trapped opossum is suspended in a tinsel-covered box and gently lowered to the ground at midnight, then released.
A judge agreed in November with lawyers for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals that issuing such a permit is improper under current state law, so legislators are changing the statute.
Co-sponsor Sen. Stan Bingham, R-Davidson, said that after years of dealing with budget shortfalls and other serious issues, it’s high time for a little levity.
“Thank goodness we’ve got something to laugh about for a change,” Bingham said.
The Possum Drop draws thousands to tiny Brasstown, located in the far-western North Carolina near the state’s boundaries with Tennessee and Georgia. A lawyer for PETA suggested in court that it is inhumane and traumatic to expose a typically shy, nocturnal animal to big crowds, loud music and fireworks.
Supporters of the tradition say the captured opossums are well-fed and cared for, far better off than the flattened carcasses routinely spotted on local roadsides. It is also legal under state law to hunt opossums using spotlights and dogs.
Sen. Jim Davis, R-Macon, said the holiday celebration is important to his constituents. PETA has a place in discussing animal-related issues, he said, but this time the advocacy group has gone too far.
The Opossum Right-to-Work Act, he said, is designed “to get these people off their backs.”
PETA spokesman David Perle said there’s nothing funny about dangling a terrified animal in a cage. Still, he said he appreciated the bill’s title.
“We have a good sense of humor at PETA, and they can call this frivolous bill whatever they want — just as long as they don’t harm animals by passing it,” Perle said.
Follow AP writer Michael Biesecker at twitter.com/mbieseck