Senator's suspension sparked by 'inappropriate' conversation, according to Senate leadership
Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller on Jan. 26 was suspended from the Senate indefinitely, with the discipline stemming from a conversation with a staffer involving "childhood vaccines and breastfeeding."
PIERRE, S.D. — A Rapid City senator's indefinite suspension from her legislative duties was sparked by an "inappropriate" conversation between Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller and a staffer from the Legislative Research Council.
Those details were part of a Friday, Jan. 27, news release in which Senate leadership announced the nine senators who will handle the chamber’s investigation into the matter.
The Legislative Research Council (LRC) aids lawmakers in drafting legislation among other duties. The conversation involved “private maternal matters, including childhood vaccines and breastfeeding, which took place in the LRC office inside the State Capitol Building,” according to the release.
Frye-Mueller on Wednesday, Jan. 25, entered into the public record a bill to "prohibit the imposition of additional immunization requirements on children."
“We thank the state employee for bringing this matter to our attention,” Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree, of Madison, wrote in a news release on Friday, Jan. 27. “Our goal is to create a safe work environment for staff and legislators, and an environment where employees feel safe bringing concerns forward. All allegations of harassment must be taken seriously. There will be due process afforded to all parties as this matter moves forward.”
The release notes that full rules surrounding the committee’s investigation will be set Monday, Jan. 30, and a final report is expected by Friday, Feb. 3.
Frye-Mueller, while not fully removed from the Senate, will not be able to exercise any legislative privileges until the investigation is over.
“Since the allegations involve a sensitive personnel matter and formal accusations against a public official, the Senate will determine a procedure that respects the rights of all parties involved and keeps the public informed throughout the process,” the release reads.
Legislative rules require avoiding “improper behavior” and refraining from “conduct that is unbecoming to the Legislature,” among members. In the Senate, breaking those rules can result in the formation of a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion, a nine-member committee appointed by leadership and tasked with investigating this sort of misconduct.
The committee will be chaired by Republican Sen. David Wheeler, of Huron; the other appointees include six Republican senators:
- Jim Bolin, of Canton;
- Helene Duhamel, of Rapid City;
- Brent Hoffman, of Sioux Falls;
- Tim Reed, of Brookings;
- Dean Wink, of Howes;
- and Sydney Davis, of Burbank,
and two Democratic senators:
- Red Dawn Foster, of Pine Ridge
- and Liz Larson, of Sioux Falls.
"We take this matter seriously and want to be as transparent and open as possible,” Duhamel said. “We are developing a process that is fair to all parties and I'm confident the committee can come to a final resolution."
In a short news conference on Thursday, Jan. 26, Frye-Mueller attempted to explain some of the circumstances surrounding the stripping of her committees, which occurred as a preliminary disciplinary measure during the meeting of the Senate on Jan. 25.
“It has come to my attention that the issue may involve a conversation I had with staff, where I promoted my well-known stance of medical freedom and the ability of individuals to choose medical treatment for themselves," she said.
In the release from leadership, that framing was disputed.
“[Frye-Mueller] was given an opportunity to speak to the Senate Republican Leadership on Jan. 25,” the release reads. “Comments made by Sen. Frye-Mueller in that private discussion are inconsistent with her public statements and the report received from the LRC staff member.”
Frye-Mueller, a business owner, was first elected to the Legislature in 2016, serving two terms in the House before being elected to the Senate in 2020.
Read the full news release from Senate leadership here.
Jason Harward is a Report for America corps reporter who writes about state politics in South Dakota. Contact him at 605-301-0496 or email@example.com.