A Tribute to Matt Lohr

A little over a week ago, my Delegate, Matt Lohr (26-R) resigned his seat in order to become the Commissioner for the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.  Although he has been my Delegate for the last five years, I didn’t know a whole lot about him.  Maybe you felt the same.  Like myself, he was rather modest, never boasting, “Look at all my accomplishments!  See what I have done!”  Even though that path seems to have worked out fine for him with his recent appointment, I have personally questioned using such a tactic, for unfortunately, political memory is often very short and those who vigorously promote their own glory are likely to receive far more.

With the notable exception of the abusive driver fees, I never worried that Delegate Lohr would vote differently than I would have.  Given that he never actively sought the limelight, the great lingering question of the day is, what were his top legislative priorities while in office?  Although I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, with a couple of exceptions, I didn’t really know.  So, in order to answer this question, I decided to contact his office to acquire a list of his most important accomplishments.  His responses are as follows:

TDR-Transfer of Development Rights, a bill which made it more attractive for localities to setup a farmland preservation program.  The TDR concept is a unique approach to saving farmland, directing growth to the proper areas, and keeping agriculture viable without using taxpayer dollars.  It is a very complex issue, but one that will have a tremendous benefit to localities around the Commonwealth.

Standards of Quality Education Standards: Two years in a row I submitted this bill and it greatly helped school divisions during these tough economic times.  Every year, schools are expected to meet their standards of accreditation.  These standards are always increasing and the benchmark gets higher and higher.  This bill places a one year freeze on the rising standards of accreditation.  As schools are being forced to cut back during these tough budgets, it seems unrealistic to expect them to achieve more.  This bill gave schools some breathing room and removed this added burden during what is already tough times.

Teen Driving Safety Bill: This bill increased the maximum driver hours for teenagers taking drivers education to be 45 hours instead of 40 hours.  It also includes that 15 of these hours must be after sunset.  It had been increasingly obvious that students were not having much if any experience driving at night in addition to needing extra time behind the wheel.  The bill also aims to increase parental involvement by requiring a driving log be complete and reminding parents it is a violation of the law to sign off on the log knowing the hours were not completed.

Protective Orders: This bill I did a few years back, adds to ensure the protection of victims of domestic abuse and I was very proud to sponsor this legislation.  It says that if a person who violates a protective order violates that order again for a second time within five years, they will receive a minimum confinement of 60 days.  If they commit a third offense within 20 years they are to receive at least six months in confinement.  prior to the law passing, there were no minimum jail requirements for these violators.

Annexation Extension: For about 30 years, the Commonwealth has put a freeze on aggressive annexation between cities and counties.  This latest extension was set to expire in 2010 and there were several failed attempts to extend that freeze until 2020.  The Kaine administration wanted to force a permanent agreement between the Counties and Cities but it never materialized.  Eventually, Gov. Kaine agreed to allow an extension on the moratorium until 2018.  This will allow positive relationships to continue between counties and cities without the threat of possible annexation.

School Textbook Budget Amendment-The past couple years, I put in a budget amendment that would allow schools to use their funding for new textbooks for other purposes.  My last two years in the House were very tough budget years and I was proud to come up with many creative measures, including this one, that would help give the local school divisions the freedom to decide how these monies could be spent.

Abortion Clinic Safety-I wasn’t able to get this bill through the Senate during my five sessions.  It did pass each year in the House by a bipartisan majority.  I was happy to fight this battle and keep this common sense idea in the public view.  I am confident that this will pass if the Republicans are able to take control of the Senate.  The bill says that abortion clinics should be regulated like ambulatory surgery centers.  They would need a yearly inspection, life saving equipment on hand and they must report complications.

While I do admit that my own personal legislative priorities would be quite a bit different from Delegate Lohr, I still believe his efforts were of great benefit to the people of the 26th district and the Commonwealth as a whole.  But he should be remembered for more than just his work as a part-time legislator.  Outside his work in the General Assembly, he was deeply involved in local activism ranging from charity work, like the recent Relay for Life, to spending his time at schools in the district.  If we all shared just a fraction of his community spirit, I earnestly believe that our valley would be an even better place.

In closing, I certainly wish former Delegate Lohr well in his future endeavors and thank him for his time in the House of Delegates.

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