Senate censures Frye-Mueller

Vote to condemn Rapid City lawmaker’s conduct is 33-1

By: - February 1, 2023 3:28 pm
Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller and her husband, Mike Mueller, stand outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Pierre during a vote to censure her on Feb. 1, 2023. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller and her husband, Mike Mueller, stand outside the Senate chamber at the Capitol in Pierre during a vote to censure her on Feb. 1, 2023. (Joshua Haiar/SD Searchlight)

PIERRE – The South Dakota Senate took swift action today and censured one of its members, eight days after she allegedly made harassing comments to a legislative staffer.

The Senate voted 33-1 to censure Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller, R-Rapid City. The action also lifts the temporary suspension against her that had been in place since last week, and limits her interaction with Legislative Research Council staff during the current legislative session to the director and the director’s designees. 

It was a Legislative Research Council staffer, whose identity has been withheld, who alleged that Frye-Mueller sharply criticized the staffer for having the staffer’s baby vaccinated. The staffer’s written complaint also said Frye-Mueller offered lewd advice about how the employee’s husband could help the staffer produce breast milk.

Sen. David Wheeler, R-Huron, chaired the Senate committee that investigated the complaint against Frye-Mueller and recommended a censure. The committee report said Frye-Mueller “engaged in harassment” that “had the effect of unreasonably interfering with an individual employee’s work performance and creating an intimidating working environment.”

Wheeler said Wednesday on the Senate floor, “We are here today to do a job that none of us want to do, or care to do, and that’s to pass judgment on one of our peers.”

Sen. Tom Pischke, R-Dell Rapids, cast the lone vote against the censure. He said Frye-Mueller did not harass the staffer.

“Due process is an absolute necessity,” Pishke said. “There is still more information to attain.”

Sen. Michael Diedrich, R-Rapid City, said the Senate must take its responsibility seriously to maintain a respectful and professional work environment.

“There was plenty of room for due process,” Diedrich said. “A legislative body has the authority to make its own rules regarding a code of ethics for our own body. It’s clear.”

A censure is essentially a reprimand, reflecting the Senate’s disapproval of the senator’s behavior. The Senate rules also allow for exoneration, discipline and expulsion. The last time the Senate censured a member was in 2007.

The lifting of Frye-Mueller’s suspension allows her to resume her duties as a state senator. 

Frye-Mueller has filed a lawsuit in federal court against Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck, R-Watertown, alleging her right to free speech has been violated. Former South Dakota lawmaker Steven Haugaard is her attorney. 

“I disagree with the censure,” Frye-Mueller told South Dakota Searchlight after the Senate vote. She and her legal team will continue to fight, she said.




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Joshua Haiar
Joshua Haiar

Joshua Haiar is a reporter based in Sioux Falls. Born and raised in Mitchell, he joined the Navy as a public affairs specialist after high school and then earned a degree from the University of South Dakota. Prior to joining South Dakota Searchlight, Joshua worked for five years as a multimedia specialist and journalist with South Dakota Public Broadcasting.