Point of View

Opossum Drop bill shows how low NC can go

June 16, 2014 

NEW YEAR POSSUM 4

Brasstown in Clay County is the Possum Capital of the South. On New Year’s Eve, the town lowers a live possum in a Plexiglas cage then frees it.

ERIK S. LESSER — NYT

Over the past few weeks, in a stunning display of legislative efficiency and bipartisanship that Washington lawmakers can only dream of, both houses of the N.C. General Assembly worked together to rush through what was apparently the most pressing issue of this legislative session: the legalization of cruelty to opossums.

Now, opossums in Clay County can be abused between Dec. 26 and Jan. 2, for the sole purpose of allowing Opossum Drop organizers to dangle a terrified opossum above a crowd of rowdy revelers each New Year’s Eve, something prohibited under law and for good reason. It is inappropriate to torment wildlife for fun.

Opossum Drop event sponsor Roger West proposed the legislation just as PETA’s latest legal challenge to using a live opossum at the event was heating up. In an admission that the Opossum Drop always has been illegal, the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission ran to the legislature to help it avoid doing the right thing. Enter HB 1131, which legalizes cruelty to North Carolina’s official state marsupial, as long as it takes place in Clay County during the week of New Year’s Eve.

Meanwhile, wildlife rehabilitators who toil night and day to feed, medicate and care for injured, ill or orphaned wild opossums are still subject to the same laws that North Carolina’s lawmakers decided shouldn’t apply when you lock a timid opossum in a box and force him or her to endure a barrage of screaming celebrants, thumping music and deafening fireworks – in other words, all the things that frighten opossums most.

So, the good old boys are still behaving badly in this state, and their message is: Wildlife be damned, humane laws be damned, and ain’t it grand to have friends in the General Assembly?

Such blatant cronyism should be a relic of a bygone era, and the General Assembly’s latest stunt must have its reasonable constituents wondering what’s next. Will lawmakers legalize cross-burning? Roll back the clock on those pesky child labor laws? How about separate drinking fountains for the poor? Anything seems possible in North Carolina as long as you’ve got a connection.

It’s a terrible civics lesson. Instead of teaching children that our laws apply equally to everyone, HB 1131 shows them that anything goes if your legislator wants to do someone a favor or ignore what’s right as agreed upon by every other state in our country.

While North Carolina residents may be incensed that their lawmakers have squandered legislative resources on legalizing the gratuitous exploitation of a wild animal, the quest to protect opossums from being used and abused at the Opossum Drop is not over. PETA will eventually make sure that HB 1131 winds up on the trash heap of history where it belongs if the members of the legislature don’t have the good sense to do it themselves.

Calley Gerber is founding attorney of Gerber Animal Law Center in Raleigh.

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