Committee will draft censure recommendation against state senator
Frye-Mueller allegedly made inappropriate comments to legislative staffer
From left, Mike Mueller, Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City, and her lawyer Steven Haugaard at a Senate committee hearing on Jan. 31, 2023, at the Capitol in Pierre. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)
PIERRE – A committee of nine state senators unanimously voted to draft a censure recommendation against a fellow senator who allegedly made inappropriate comments to a legislative employee.
The committee, which met for several hours Tuesday evening at the Capitol, also voted to include in the draft recommendation a lifting of the suspension against Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City, and limits on her interactions with legislative staff.
If the recommendations gain final adoption from the committee, they’ll go to the full Senate. The chamber’s rules say the adoption of a select committee recommendation to censure a senator requires a three-fifths majority vote. A vote to discipline Frye-Mueller would also require a three-fifths majority, while a vote to expel her would require a two-thirds majority and a vote to exonerate requires a simple majority.
The committee hearing kicked off with Sen. Sydney Davis, R-Burbank, reading the written complaint from the accuser, a Legislative Research Council staffer whose name has been withheld from the public. The complaint was lodged Jan. 25 about an incident that happened Jan. 24.
The complaint says Frye-Mueller criticized the staffer’s decision to have her baby vaccinated. Frye-Mueller allegedly said, among other things, that vaccines would harm or even kill the baby. Frye-Mueller also allegedly made lewd suggestions about how the staffer could produce breast milk with the assistance of the staffer’s husband.
Frye-Mueller testified during the hearing that she was offering private advice to the staffer. She denied the allegations about her vaccine-related comments.
“I don’t talk about any issues that are personal issues,” Frye-Mueller said. “My children have gotten vaccines.”
Frye-Mueller said the Senate has treated her unfairly because she’s not favored by Republican leaders.
“It just looks like you guys are looking for something that’s not there,” Frye-Mueller said.
Mike Mueller, Frye-Mueller’s husband, who was allegedly present during the interaction with the legislative staffer, also testified during the hearing. He does not believe “there was any ill-intent” during the conversation.
“This was a couple gals talking,” Mike Mueller said.
Frye-Mueller has filed a lawsuit against Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, in federal court, alleging her right to free speech has been violated. Former South Dakota lawmaker Steven Haugaard is her attorney.
During Tuesday’s committee hearing at the Capitol, Haugaard said the procedure is out of line and the investigation would be incomplete without more time for additional evidence and testimony.
“There is no justice in a proceeding where we were given notice about a day ago and we are told a decision would be made today,” Haugaard said.
Haugaard and Frye-Mueller said they plan to fight the decision and will use all legal means at their disposal to challenge the findings of the committee.
Committee member Reynold Nesiba, D-Sioux Falls, called the committee’s proposed recommendation a necessary step to maintain the integrity of the legislative body.
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