PIERRE, S.D. – The South Dakota Senate took the unusual step of not just voting to investigate a legislator but to suspend during the investigation.
Senators voted 27 to 6 this afternoon (Thursday) to suspend and investigate Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (Mule-er), a business owner from Rapid City.
Wednesday, Senate President Pro Tem Lee Schoenbeck, a Republican from Watertown, suspended Sen. Frye-Mueller from her committee assignments.
Other media has reported
that she had an incident with a Legislative Research Council staffer. Frye-Mueller denies it was about COVID-19, as some media outlets have reported.
On the floor of the Senate, during consideration of the suspension and investigation, Frye-Miller said she did not know what she was accused of. However, she did say that the Republican Senate caucus, which meets before the start of the Senate session, did see the evidence. Republican leadership barred Frye-Mueller from the caucus. As President Pro Tempore, Schoenbeck has authority over membership and committees.
For decades, the Republican caucuses have not allowed the public or media to attend. Frye-Mueller said that much of the discussion on the motion occurred during a closed door caucus meeting before the floor vote Thursday. Frye-Mueller was banned from attending caucus meetings as part of her punishment Wednesday.
To take the extraordinary action, the Senate had to vote to suspend the rules, which takes a two-thirds majority. Republican Lt. Gov. Larry Rhoden, President of the Senate, asked Republican leadership to cite which rule or statute gave authority to suspend and investigate Frye-Mueller. Sen. Lee Schoenbeck said legislative rules allow lawmakers to enforce decorum. Lt. Gov. Rhoden ruled the motion to suspend and investigate out of order. He was overruled by the required two-thirds of Senate members. The motion to overrule Rhoden was made by President Pro Tempore Schoenbeck (R-Watertown). As President Pro Tempore, Schoenbeck has authority over membership and committees.
Republican Sen. Tom Pischke of Dell Rapids spoke in support of his seatmate and friend, Sen. Frye-Mueller. He said she was being denied due process and that he would make the same claim even if he disagreed or disliked a similarly accused Senator. Pischke also said that the suspension would deny Frye-Mueller’s 25,000 constituents representation.
Following Sen. Pischke’s emotional appeal, Sen. Frye-Mueller said, “I need to know what I’m facing.” After the vote, she left the chamber and was not in the Senate when it adjourned.
After moving to overrule Rhoden, senators ultimately voted 27-6 to allow a select committee to investigate Frye-Mueller’s conduct to be created. That motion was brought by Sen. Michael Rohl (R-Aberdeen) and Sen. Herman Otten (R-Tea). Lawmakers did not give an exact timeline as to when a select committee to investigate would be formed, but indicated that they intended to have the process completed by early next week.