PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) –The Senate Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion decided on a voice vote Tuesday night to recommend that Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller be censured by the full Senate and that her suspension be lifted immediately.
The nine-member committee will gather again at noon Wednesday to accept the report and take an official roll-call vote. The report will then move to the Senate for a decision.
A censure is an official reprimand. It is not as severe as expulsion. The committee also could have voted to recommend that she be disciplined or exonerated.
A censure requires three-fifths support. That is 21 ayes in the 35-member Senate.
“This isn’t a trial, it’s a personnel matter,” said Senate Democrat leader Reynold Nesiba, who called for the penalties against Frye-Mueller.
She also would be required to not enter the Legislative Research Council office.
The meeting ran four hours and dealt with a harassment report filed by a Legislative Research Council employee, who testified in a closed-door session. The employee, who wasn’t publicly identified, was in the hearing room with her attorney when Frye-Mueller repeatedly disagreed with the report.
“I thought we were friends,” Frye-Mueller said about her relationship with the employee. “It was an act, I guess.”
Tuesday night’s meeting started with Steven Haugaard, the attorney for suspended Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller. Haugaard told the special committee that the action was “unprecedented” and there’s “no constitutional authority” for the SD Senate to take its action.
Sen. David Wheeler, the committee chair, said the panel intended to finish the hearing “expeditiously.” He told Frye-Mueller’s attorneys the committee could order testimony.
Haugaard said he needs more time and wants to explore the employee’s file. Wheeler said that would be a “fishing expedition.”
Haugaard said he wants to call senators to testify. Wheeler said the committee is to focus on what happened in the LRC office between Frye-Mueller, her husband and the employee.
Haugaard wants to call an unnamed witness to rebut the employee’s testimony. Haugaard said the witness would refute the employee’s claim there hadn’t been any previous claims of harassment.
Sen. Dean Wink said Frye-Mueller should have the opportunity to present it “whether we believe it or not.”
Frye-Mueller took oath and then read a statement. She said the employee brought up the topic of nursing her baby. Frye-Mueller said she and her husband were “absolutely shocked” by the Senate’s action. She accused Sen. Lee Schoenbeck of attempting a “dead cat strategy” to divert attention, based on his Facebook page the past weekend.
“I did not ask her if she was vaccinated,” Frye-Mueller said. On the nursing claim, Frye-Mueller said she never said that, either. Frye-Mueller said the employee brought up her “inability to nurse.” Frye-Mueller asked the employee if she could pass along what she learned from her grandmother about nursing.
Mike Mueller took the stand Tuesday night. “This was a couple gals talking,” he said. He said it was a situation where the staffer “was being played.” “Friendly greeting, friendly departure,” Mueller said about the meeting.
The committee made a recommendation. Sen. Nesiba called for a censure and that she be reinstated immediately. This isn’t a trial, it’s a personnel matter,” Nesiba said. A censure is an official reprimand. The report would come back to the committee for approval and then proceed to the Senate floor.
Wheeler said it’s not appropriate for Mike Mueller to be part of the censure. Committee votes by voice for the report to be drafted. No one was heard to disagree.
Committee votes by voice for the report to be drafted. No one was heard to disagree.
The South Dakota Senate Select Committee met briefly in open session Tuesday evening at 5 p.m. CT.
After the meeting was called to order, there was a motion to go into executive session to hear testimony from a witness.
The group met for the first time on Monday as part of its investigation into allegations of inappropriate behavior by suspended Senator Julie Frye-Mueller.
A statement from a Legislative Research Council staff member claims that Frye-Mueller was verbally “aggressive” telling the staffer she can’t vaccinate her child and falsely claimed that vaccines will kill the baby.
The employee is expected to testify before the committee Tuesday in executive session. A redacted transcript would then be released to the public.
The committee can recommend to the full Senate that Frye-Mueller be expelled, censured, disciplined or exonerated.
You can watch the public portions of the Senate Select Committee meeting live on KELOLAND.com. KELOLAND’s Dan Santella and Bob Mercer are both in Pierre covering the story. Look for a full recap from them later on KELOLAND News.
Earlier in the day, a federal judge denied Frye-Mueller’s motion to pause the disciplinary proceedings.
Judge Roberto Lange ruled that the relief she was actually asking for was a restraining order without notice to Senate President Pro Tem Lee Schoenbeck.
“This Court wants to hear from both sides before issuing a substantive order and thus prefers transforming this injunction request from an ex parte request for a temporary restraining order to a preliminary injunction hearing,” Judge Roberto Lange said.
Lange wants to have a hearing with both parties regarding the preliminary injunction next week.
Republican Sen. David Wheeler says the order has no bearing on the committee’s plans for Tuesday night.