Senate Select Committee votes to recommend reinstating suspended Frye-Mueller
Frye-Mueller said that the LRC staffer’s report of their conversation was not consistent with how she remembered it
PIERRE, S.D. - The South Dakota State Senate’s “Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion” wants Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (R-Rapid City) reinstated.
That’s after an hours long, contentious hearing that went well into Tuesday night. Lawmakers heard from both Frye-Mueller, her husband Mike, and the staffer who had the interaction with the two.
The conversation with the staffer and her legal counsel happened in executive session, behind closed doors to start the meeting.
Sen. Sydney Davis (R-Burbank) reread the original statement given to the media Monday so that it would be in the legislative record.
Frye-Mueller’s legal representation, former House Speaker Steve Haugaard and Stephanie Trask, raised numerous challenges to the constitutionality of the senator’s suspension.
“To suspend someone’s rights without a hearing, without an investigation, without an opportunity to cross examine the parties involved... This isn’t consistent with past precedent,” Haugaard said.
Sen. David Wheeler (R-Huron) chair of the select committee, pushed several times to keep Frye-Mueller’s counsel on the nature of the interaction.
“You have clearly made your position known, in regards to what you think about the authority, or lack thereof, of the Senate to proceed as it has,” Wheeler said to protests by Trask about the senate’s decision to suspend Frye-Mueller.
Both Frye-Mueller and her husband were reluctant to testify at first, while Haugaard pushed to have other witnesses called into testify.
Haugaard claimed that the witnesses would draw into question the staffer’s credibility.
“There were three people in that room,” Wheeler said. “One has already testified, and one is in this room. It is difficult to me to understand how someone else would have relevant testimony for what happened with this employee.”
All three involved with the conversation testified under oath Tuesday, offering different accounts of the conversation they were a part of in the Legislative Research Council office on January 24th.
Both Frye-Mueller and her husband disputed the account of the staffer, who has not been named publicly.
In tears, Frye-Mueller said she took specific issue with the allegation that she brought up breastfeeding.
“To me, what this turned out to be, that was not at all what we were talking about,” Frye-Mueller said to the committee about the conversation on breastfeeding. The senator also said that she did not suggest vaccines could kill a baby or cause down syndrome.
Mike Mueller, who is also an unpaid lobbyist for “Citizens for Liberty,” said that he offered to leave the room when the conversation moved to breastfeeding.
“We never saw body language from the staffer that reflected that she was uncomfortable,” Mueller said. “She (Frye-Mueller) gets flush red when I talk about anything that is off color, and she certainly does not impose herself on others.”
Jack Hieb, an Aberdeen-area private attorney representing the LRC staffer, told Dakota News Now/KOTA Territory said that his client never discussed the complaint with Senate leadership, or any senator.
Hieb also said that the public scrutiny, along with the allegations of conspiracy with Senate Leadership, had impacted his client personally. The staffer indicated through her legal counsel that she did not intend to bring any sort of legal action, and did not have a preference as to what punishment was given to Frye-Mueller.
“My client simply gave the statement that everybody has seen to her supervisor,” Hieb explained. “From there, this thing has taken on a life of its own.”
The committee unanimously moved to recommend censuring Frye-Mueller on the senate floor, to limit her access to the LRC office and staff for the rest of the legislative session, and to draft a report on the matter.
All agreed that the Rapid City area senator should also be reinstated immediately. Such action would require approval from the full Senate.
“We have a duty to protect LRC staffers,” said Sen. Reynold Nesiba (D-Sioux Falls), who proposed the action. “We have a duty to make sure this is a safe environment for them to do their work on our behalf.”
The committee will reconvene on Wednesday at noon CST to finalize the report. The full senate convenes at 2 p.m. later that day.
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