Senate makes history in action against Frye-Mueller

Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller

On Wednesday and Thursday, the South Dakota State Senate acted against Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller for what the Argus Leader described as “an incident with a legislative staff member.”

The first action took place on Wednesday, when Senate President Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck stripped Sen. Frye-Mueller of her committee assignments.

That action presaged the drama on the Senate floor on Thursday, which the Senate journal described as follows:

Sen. Herman Otten and Sen. Rohl moved to suspend the rules to create a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion to investigate the conduct of Senator Julie Frye-Mueller under special rules to be adopted and to immediately suspend Senator Julie Frye-Mueller from exercising any rights or privileges as a senator pending the outcome of the investigation.

That motion, which required a two-third votes due to the suspension of the rules, passed by a vote of 27-6. Numerous news sources, such as The Dakota Scout and Keloland News, described the scene in the State Senate. Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree subsequently released this statement:

We were made aware of serious personnel allegations. Based on the nature of that allegation we needed to act quickly and prudently to protect the person involved. We will have due process in public with a goal to complete the process early next week.

Both the removal of Sen. Frye-Mueller from committees, and her temporary suspension from the Senate, are believed to be firsts in state history, and are certainly without precedent in recent memory.

There is precedent, though, for the creation of a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion. In 2006 and 2007, a Senate investigation into Sen. Dan Sutton led to a Senate vote to censure Sutton. Another committee created in 2017 to investigate Rep. Mathew Wollmann was dissolved after Wollmann resigned, obviating the purpose of the committee.

According to existing Senate rules, the Select Committee can recommend to “expel, censure, discipline, or exonerate” Sen. Frye-Mueller. A recommendation to expel would be another first; the Legislative Research Council’s Legislator Historical Listing has no record of a prior expulsion of a state legislator.

Update: On February 1, 2023, the Senate voted to censure Frye-Mueller and ended her suspension. This is at least the second time a state legislator has been censured, following the aforementioned Sutton case in 2006 and 2007.

Note: As a member of the State House of Representatives, this blogger has no inside information relating to the Senate’s deliberations or decision-making in this matter. This post was written relying solely on publicly available sources.