PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — A suspended member of the South Dakota Senate made “inappropriate behavior and harassment related to private maternal matters, including childhood vaccines and breastfeeding,” according to a news release from Senate leadership Friday afternoon.
Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller was suspended of her powers in the Senate by a 27-6 vote on Friday. The motion to suspend her also created a Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion.
Lawmakers will investigate an encounter Frye-Mueller had with a member of the Legislative Research Council staff member in the LRC office inside the state Capitol building. On Wednesday, Frye-Mueller was given a chance to speak with Senate Republican leadership about the encounter.
“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,” the news release said.
“We thank the state employee for bringing this matter to our attention,” Senate Majority Leader Casey Crabtree said in the news release. “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.”
Republican Sen. David Wheeler will chair the Senate Select Committee. Other Republican senators on the committee are Jim Bolin, Sydney Davis, Helene Duhamel, Brent Hoffman, Tim Reed and Dean Wink.
Democrats will have two senators – Red Dawn Foster and Liz Larson – on the committee which will make a full report to the Senate before the end of the fourth week of the legislative session.
The Legislature has dealt with conduct of lawmakers several times in recent decades. Three years ago, a Senate committee admonished then-Republican leader Kris Langer and then-president pro tem Brock Greenfield for drinking alcohol at a house near the Capitol and then returning for the final hours of the 2020 legislative session. In 2017, then-Rep. Mathew Wollman resigned after a House investigation began into his relationships with legislative interns.
In 2007, the Senate censured Flandreau Democrat Dan Sutton for sharing a bed with a male legislative page. The discipline and expulsion rules that the Senate used for the Sutton hearing could be in play next week in Pierre.
Sixteen years later, Frye-Mueller, of Rapid City, is in hot water with her colleagues.
KELOLAND News reached out to Frye-Mueller Friday but did not hear back.
Frye-Mueller will be allowed to present her side during a hearing, possibly as soon as next week. Lee Schoenbeck, the Senate’s highest-ranking member, said he wants to move quickly.
The committee could recommend to the full Senate that she be expelled, censured, disciplined, or exonerated.
Capitol Bureau reporter Bob Mercer contributed to this story.