Democrat seeks opinion on state plane usage
COLUMBIA — A legislator sought an opinion Thursday whether a Republican House member properly used a state airplane when he shuttled conservative commentator Walter Williams to and from a Washington-area airport for a hearing in Columbia.
Rep. Gilda Cobb-Hunter, D-Orangeburg, asked the House Ethics Committee whether it’s appropriate for a legislator to use a state plane for people testifying before a subcommittee. The opinion would carry no weight of law.
Her letter came a day after Rep. Bill Chumley of Woodruff brought Williams from a suburban Washington airport to push for a bill that initially sought to nullify the federal health care law.
The state plane’s four legs — to a Manassas, Va., airport and back, to pick up Williams and return him — would have cost a paying passenger nearly $6,400, according to the state Aeronautics Commission’s manifest and flight log.
Williams, a syndicated columnist and radio commentator, is well known for advocating state measures attempting to nullify federal law.
Chumley again dismissed requests that he reimburse the state, calling Williams’ testimony official state business.
“They’re just upset that we had such a good day yesterday,” he said. “That was a good use of the taxpayers’ money.”
Chumley said ethics committee staff signed off on the flight before he arranged it.
The 10 committee members could end up deciding whether the plane use was appropriate. Rep. James Smith, D-Columbia, has said he may file a complaint. Under state law, the legislative panel handles ethics complaints against the chamber’s own members.
State law allows statewide officers and legislators to use the two planes at no cost on a first-come, first-served basis, as long as the trips are official business.