Lawmaker defends use of state plane to fly back for vote

? State Rep. Virgil Peck is defending his use of the state’s private plane to fly back to Topeka for an important vote on school finance earlier this month, despite the fact that he arrived too late to cast a vote.

Peck, a Republican from Montgomery County, was away from Topeka attending events in his district with Gov. Sam Brownback on Friday, March 13, when the House voted on final passage of a bill repealing the existing school finance formula and replacing it with a system of block grants for the next two years.

He had gone back home Thursday night, March 12, after the bill narrowly advanced to final action, in order to attend several public events in Coffeyville and Independence with Gov. Sam Brownback.

When the final action vote was taken Friday morning, there were initially only 62 votes in favor, one short of the 63 votes needed for passage. Peck was one of three Republicans known to support the bill who were absent, and so a “call of the House” was ordered at 8:15 a.m. to force those back to the chamber to vote.

The House held the roll open for two hours, waiting for the absent members to return.

“I could have left in my car,” Peck said. “It would have taken three hours. I was told to wait for the plane.”

Brownback’s press secretary Eileen Hawley said the plane used that day was a twin-engine, propeller driven Air King plane that seats up to nine passengers.

According to the plane’s logs, which were obtained from the Kansas Highway Patrol through an open records request, the plane arrived in Coffeyville carrying Brownback and one aide at 9:12 a.m., nearly an hour after the call was ordered.

The logs show the plane left Coffeyville, carrying Peck as a passenger, about half an hour after that, at 9:43 a.m. and landed in Topeka at 10:15.

By the time it landed, however, the two other absent Republicans had just returned and cast their votes. The roll was closed and the final vote was tallied at 10:17 a.m., according to House records, and the bill passed, 64-57.

At 11:06 a.m., according to the flight logs, the plane left Topeka en route back to Coffeyville. Peck was listed as the only passenger on each leg of those flights.

Hawley had estimated the cost of each flight at $205. She said the Highway Patrol, which owns and operates the plane, typically sends a bill to the governor’s office for the cost of its flights.

Peck said he attended five events in Montgomery County that day, including three in Coffeyville and two in Independence.