Delegate Rick Morris
Delegate Rick Morris
On January 11, 2012 I was honored to take my oath of office. It was truly a privilege to officially become the voice of the citizens of the 64th District on the floor of the House of Delegates. It is a moment I will never forget. During the opening ceremony, Speaker Bill Howell announced Members' committee assignments for the 2012 session, appointing me to the Committee on Courts of Justice, the Militia, Police & Public Safety Committee and the Committee on Counties, Cities and Towns. I am very pleased with my committee assignments.
Thank you for allowing me to serve as your Delegate.
- Morris and Government Accountability -
Transparency, when it comes to the inner workings of government, is the word often used to describe what most seem to crave. And rightfully so. Given the various representative bodies that govern our cities, states and our country, if we are to have an empowered citizenry, it is of the utmost importance that we be aware of what our elected and appointed representatives are up to.
Yet what that transparency provides, and what it is that we should truly seek, is accountability from those whose actions shape our lives. Only by disclosing all that they do and say, by being completely transparent, can that accountability exist.
Many in government engage their constituents in a never-ending game of cat and mouse when it comes to fully disclosing their activities. Scarce few lawmakers work to see that their colleagues - and they themselves - are held to a higher level of public scrutiny. Western Tidewater sends one such lawmaker to Richmond to do the people's business each year.
In the four years since first being elected, Del. Rick Morris (R-64) has been a strong advocate for government transparency and accountability. He has submitted numerous pieces of legislation aimed at either eliminating the process of appointing unelected governing bodies or ensuring that they at least are able to be held accountable for their actions. Not surprisingly, many with whom he serves were less enthusiastic and defeated his bills.
This session, Morris has introduced a bill that would make it a crime for a government employee or an appointed or elected official to knowingly and intentionally withhold requested information under the Freedom of Information Act. The bill passed in the House of Delegates last week and will soon be heard in the Senate. It is meaningful legislation, and should be passed into law.
Regardless of the outcome, Morris has consistently proven to be on the side of taxpayers who demand accountability from those who represent them in government. His crusade on this front is worthy of our admiration. We urge him to fight on.
- Morris bills seek less government -
Delegate Rick Morris is repeatedly taking the side of individuals who feel they are being oppressed by a governmental body or agency. In doing so, he is beginning to carve out a reputation, at least within the district he represents, of being a champion of less government, and certainly, of less bureaucracy.
His success rate in trying to legislate smaller government has been mixed. It's not unusual for a Morris bill to be defeated or left in committee. But not always. In fact, last year, he had a couple of successes - one dealing with agriculture and the other with battles between individuals and local government.
On the agricultural front, he won an amendment to the Virginia Right to Farm Act that prohibits localities from requiring a special use permit for any agricultural production activity within an agricultural zone. It was a direct and successful challenge to the propensity of modern local government to require permits for everything.
Another successful Morris bill last year provides that, if local government denies a permit or other zoning approval for unconstitutional reasons, the applicant is eligible to recover attorney's fees.
This year, Morris has taken up Isle of Wight resident Joe Ferguson's cause. Ferguson is the landowner who was letting a friend stay in a travel rrailer on his property during hunting season. An anonymous complaint about the camping led county zoning officials to charge Ferguson with violating the county's campground ordinance. That led, as government overreach often does, to a debate over whether or not Boy Scouts camping out on county farms violates the county ordinance.
Morris bill would exempt from local camp-ground regulations instances in which a landowner allows guest to camp.
Another bill and a proposed amendment to the Virginia Constitution being introduced by Morris have the same instinct. They are in response to constituents who want to sell milk without state inspection or interference. The constitutional amendment would give Virginians the right to purchase farm-produced products for their own use directly from farmers. And the proposed legislation would exempt mild from inspection so long as no more than three cows are being milked and the milk is labeled as uninspected.
Both the amendment and the bill will undoubtedly come under close scrutiny in legislative committee - and they should. The safety of agricultural products has generally been unassailable, and while the back-to-nature movement is strong. Virginia should move very carefully if it plans to relax food inspection.
A bill mentioned here a few weeks ago has the same underlying motivation - a check on government. It would require Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries and Virginia Marine Resources Commission officers to have probable cause of a law violation before stopping a pleasure boat. Today, boaters can be stopped on a simple suspicion that something might be found that is illegal. Both VMRC and VDGIF are expected to vigorously oppose the bill.
Morris last batch of personal freedom bill involves college students. House Bills 1321, 1322 and 1323 all are aimed at protecting students and student organizations from arbitrarily being punished by the institutions of higher learning in which they are enrolled. The three provide either the right to legal counsel for students accused of infractions for which they can receive lengthy suspensions or appeal to a Circuit Court of findings that lead to suspension.
Virginia's state-supported colleges and universities are guaranteed not to like any of the three, and the combined clout of Virginia's most influential universities will be formidable. Still, good for Delegate Morris.
Delegate Morris' instinct in all these instances is for more personal freedom. He may win a few, but almost certainly not all. Win or lose, though, what better place to debate the lofty principle of personal freedom than in the home of the Western Hemisphere's oldest deliberative body - the Virginia Geneeral Assembly.