Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. January 30, 2023.

Editorial: Openness Needed In RC Senator’s Case

The curious case of South Dakota State Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller has been made all the more intriguing because, frankly, we aren’t permitted to know what exactly was going on until a few days later.

For four days, we were left in the dark as to why the District 30 Rapid City Republican was suddenly suspended and stripped of her legislative powers last week in a rare rebuke of an elected lawmaker.

According to The Associated Press (AP), the action occurred after what was described as “an exchange” she had with a legislative aide allegedly regarding childhood vaccinations and breastfeeding.

The AP added, “Sen. Michael Rohl, the Republican lawmaker who initiated the motion to suspend Frye-Mueller, said in a statement that it was based on ‘serious allegations’ and had been made to ensure the Legislature was creating a safe work environment for employees.”

The Senate voted 27-6 to set up a committee to investigate Frye-Mueller’s alleged misconduct.

Finally, on Monday, more details came out after Frye-Mueller filed a lawsuit against Senate Pro Tempore Lee Schoenbeck (R-Watertown), claiming that he allegedly violated her First Amendment rights when the Senate voted to suspend her.

With that, the statement filed by the aide on the situation became public. It alleged that, while the senator and the aide were initially discussing a draft bill, Frye-Mueller asked the female aide about her baby. The senator then asked about vaccinations, claiming that, according to the document, “vaccinating babies is wrong,” adding that “’you are taking away God’s gift of immunity to your son.’” She also allegedly claimed the baby could develop Down syndrome and said “(the baby) will die from those vaccines.” Frye-Mueller also allegedly made some remarks about breastfeeding that the aide felt were inappropriate.

So, now we know, at least to a better extent, what happened.

But it should not have taken so long.


Madison Daily Leader. January 30, 2023.

Editorial: Proposed scholarship is great; is it enough?

Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt of Sioux Falls has introduced a bill to establish a new scholarship program for students pursuing degrees in the behavioral health field.

The scholarships would cover tuition and fees for students who attend South Dakota higher education schools to pursue degrees in psychology, counseling, therapy, social work or other similar occupations. The recipients would need to work in a behavioral health job in the state for at least five years.

It’s an idea that is long overdue, as the shortage of such behavioral health professionals is at a crisis level. We read stories of extreme shortages at the Human Services Center in Yankton, causing danger to both staff and residents, as well as less-than-optimal treatment for those who need it.

There are needs for behavioral health professionals in every community in South Dakota, to help work with people with mental health issues, drug and alcohol addictions and other behavior problems. Many people with mental health needs go through the criminal justice system, which may not be the best path. That system is short of mental health professionals as well.

The proposed scholarship program would provide scholarships of about $1 million in perpetuity (appropriation rules don’t allow permanent financing, so the bill sets aside money into a trust fund to pay for future scholarships).

Just to use round numbers, let’s say each school year would cost $10,000, meaning that a four-year degree would require $40,000. An appropriation of $1 million would fund 25 graduates per year. We think that is a very small number, probably not even enough to cover retiring professionals each year.

In addition, a college scholarship may not be enough to attract the students. We believe improved pay at the HSC and in the corrections system is also needed to help boost the supply of professionals where they are acutely needed. We endorse Rep. Rehfeldt’s bill and urge the Legislature to approve an amendment to increase funding for both the scholarship and for state employee mental health professional pay.