- Associated Press - Thursday, May 22, 2014

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) - A North Carolina House committee gave the go-ahead Thursday for opossums in Clay County to be excluded from state wildlife laws so the animals can be used in the annual Possum Drop.

The bill, passed by the House Rules committee, aims to preserve Brasstown’s New Year’s Eve celebration that includes the lowering of a captured opossum at midnight. The event held annually for two decades involves enclosing a live opossum in a clear plastic box and lowering it gently to the ground. It is later released.

The bill exempts opossums from state wildlife laws from Dec. 26, 2013 to Jan. 2, 2014 in Clay County, where the drop is held.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals says the drop is harmful to opossums, even though they are lowered slowly and later released, and has tried to stop the event.

A North Carolina judge last year ruled against a PETA lawsuit trying to outlaw the practice. The General Assembly also passed a law in 2013 allowing licensed sportsmen to hold animals for display if it is for “an annual, seasonal, or cultural event.”

The bill was sponsored by Rep. Roger West, R-Cherokee, who represents Brasstown. He jokingly noted when asked by another committee member that the marsupial community was in support of the bill. Its consideration was met with some joking by committee members and passed easily.

The bill will be considered by the full House next week.

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