Del. Collins takes heat in town hall meeting

Del. Chris Collins, R-Winchester, speaks to about 50 citizens who attended his town hall meeting on Saturday at Lord Fairfax Community College. Jake Zuckerman/Daily

MIDDLETOWN – A state legislator took questions from citizens Saturday at a town hall event and faced fiery probes on progressive issues such as funding Planned Parenthood, women’s rights to abortion and LGBT peoples’ civil protections.

Del. Chris Collins, R-Winchester, spoke before roughly 50 citizens who peppered the freshman delegate in a heated, though civil forum.

Much of the back and forth centered around Collins’ support of House Bill 2264, which works to defund planned parenthood.

Collins, a Catholic, said he doesn’t believe the government should fund abortions. However, he said this argument has been going nowhere for the past 50 years and he believes there’s room in the middle for common ground between either side of the choice argument.

“I disagree that taxpayer money should go to Planned Parenthood, so long as Planned Parenthood is providing abortions, that’s my position,” he said. “But I also want to see that we have more access to services for those mothers so hopefully they choose a different path other than abortion.”

According to data from Planned Parenthood’s 2013-2014 annual report, the organization spent about 3 percent of its funding on abortion services. Most of its funding went toward STI/STD testing and treatment (42 percent), contraception (34 percent), other women’s health services (11 percent) and cancer screening and prevention (9 percent).

Along with Planned Parenthood issues, Collins also defended Virginia House Bill 2025, which protects religious institutions from conducting marriages if it conflicts with their interpretation of marriage.

Many critics of the bill, including local business owner Michael Gregg, contend the bill exists only to codify anti-LGBT discrimination.

“As a member of the LGBT community and a business owner in this town, I see these laws in other states, and I see how economically disastrous this law is,” Gregg said at the town hall. “It opens the door for all these other – it’s discriminatory. It’s discrimination. It’s picking one group over another.”

In response, Collins said the bill does not apply to businesses, only religious institutions. He said he doesn’t believe the government should interfere with marriage, and he doesn’t believe any religious person should be forced to participate in a marriage ceremony against his or her beliefs.

Despite a few flare-ups throughout the event, Collins also addressed some less hot button issues with the crowd, including legislation he’s working on at the moment.

In that vein, he said he is working on bills that will cut down on the feedback loop of endless fines and driver’s license suspensions for low-level violations, ethics reform laws in the state, and HB 1678, which protects fracking companies from disclosing the exact contents of the chemicals they use to extract natural gas from shale.

In a closing point at the meeting, Collins said the best way for citizens to twist his arm on an issue is to write him original letters or call his office. He said either of those two points do affect his decision  making while casting a vote in the legislature.

Contact staff writer Jake Zuckerman at 540-465-5137 ext. 152, or jzuckerman@nvdaily.com