- Associated Press - Monday, January 27, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - The North Carolina Senate doesn’t plan to consider dog-breeding regulations later this year after its leaders took offense about the disclosure of a conversation recorded by community activists with a senator, who gave frank comments about the legislation.

Senate Rules Committee Chairman Tom Apodaca alleged Monday that the participants of a private conversation with Sen. Bill Rabon, R-Brunswick, were using their recording to try to force senators into passing the bill that passed the House last year. Apodaca said the conversation was secretly recorded, but a person in the meeting disagreed.

Gov. Pat McCrory and his wife, Ann, have both pushed for the legislation, which is designed to set minimum standards for people who keep at least 10 female dogs primarily to breed and sell the offspring as pets. McCrory said last week the “puppy mill” measure was on his 2014 agenda, and urged its passage again Monday. The General Assembly reconvenes in May.

“Just because someone uses foolish tactics, there is no reason to stop good legislation which needs to be passed here in North Carolina,” McCrory said, his office citing a comment he made to reporters in Wilmington.

Rabon, a veterinarian, didn’t return a phone call at his Raleigh office and an email message Monday seeking comment. But Apodaca said in an interview that Rabon talked in the recorded conversation in part about changing the bill.

“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,” Apodaca said in a prepared statement, adding “to dignify those actions by moving ahead on this issue would set a dangerous precedent while condoning and encouraging these unethical tactics.”

WRAL-TV said it obtained a copy of the audio of what it identified as a Jan. 16 meeting between Rabon and constituents. A portion of it that aired had Rabon saying the House “bill is not going to pass.”

Apodaca said Rabon and another veterinarian, Sen. Trudy Wade, R-Guilford, had acted in good faith with McCrory’s office “on legislation to protect the welfare of dogs and make sure they are treated humanely.”

The TV station also quoted excerpts from the audio on its website in which Rabon blamed the House for moving a bad bill. He also accused McCrory and first lady of improperly advocating for the bill in the House. Ann McCrory watched from the House gallery when the bill was debated last May and held a news conference urging its passage.

“It was bullied out of committee by the executive branch,” WRAL quoted Rabon as saying from the recording. “The executive branch had absolutely, absolutely no business sticking its nose in the legislature on that sort of issue.”

Brunswick County resident Janie Withers confirmed in a brief phone interview she taped the conversation but said that was not illegal. She said her recorder was in plain sight during the interview but apparently Rabon didn’t notice it, citing some coarse language in the comments he made.

Withers referred additional questions to Cheri McLain, the leader of Rescue Animals Community Effort in Shallotte. McLean also attended the meeting, WRAL-TV reported. She didn’t return a phone call to The Associated Press seeking comment by Monday evening.

McCrory also said Monday he was “disappointed in the type of dialogue, and my wife and I will stay above that type of dialogue.”

The House bill sets specific standards to ensure that dogs have daily exercise, fresh food and water, shelter and veterinary care. Some opponents have said the measure encroaches upon the rights of responsible dog owners, and would be the next step toward the regulation of hunting and farm animals.

But McCrory, a dog owner, said last week that without adequate regulation, North Carolina will continue to allow puppy mills to operate.

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