Photo by Marcus Heerdt/Fall River County Herald-Star
District 30 Senator Julie Frye-Mueller of Rapid City speaks during this past weekend’s crackerbarrel at the Mueller Civic Center in Hot Springs. Seated are District 30 Represenatives Dennis Krull of Hill City and Trish Ladner of Hot Springs.
By Marcus Heerdt
HOT SPRINGS – A near-capacity crowd of more than 70 people attended a District 30 Legislative Crackerbarrel this past Saturday afternoon, Feb. 18, in Hot Springs. The event took place in the annex of the Mueller Civic Center from 2 – 4 p.m. and was hosted by the Fall River County Herald-Star and was co-sponsored by the Fall River County Republicans.
All three elected officials from District 30, which included Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller (Rapid City) and Reps. Trish Ladner (Hot Springs) and Dennis Krull (Hill City), were present and spoke about bills and issues they are involved with during this year’s legislative session in Pierre. The lawmakers also answered questions from the public on a variety of topics.
The two-hour session began with the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Opening remarks were then made by Brett Nachtigall, publisher of the Herald-Star and facilitator of the event. Nachtigall welcomed everyone to the crackerbarrel and introduced not only the legislators but also all public officials in attendance which included city council members, Fall River County Commissioners, and other elected officials.
Each legislator then made brief opening remarks.
Sen. Frye-Mueller has served in the Senate since 2021 and previously served in the House from 2017-2021.
Frye-Mueller expressed her disappointment in the fact that a number of her sponsored bills had been defeated in Pierre, including SB 122 which was “an act to address the potential abuse of opiate and opioid drugs.”
“[The bill said] that the doctor has to take three to five minutes to explain opioids or other choices that [patients] can have rather than just opioids,” said Frye-Mueller.
SB 122 was deferred to the 41st legislative day by a unanimous vote by the Senate Health and Human Services committee, effectively killing the bill.
In their opening remarks, Reps. Trish Ladner and Dennis Krull both discussed HB 1127, “an act to make an appropriation to support volunteer fire departments.”
“This would help offset the cost of our volunteer firemen’s equipment, who currently buy their own equipment for the privilege of volunteering to save our homes and our forests,” Ladner said. “I’m excited about that one and it looks like it has a good chance of getting through appropriations.”
“I’m really passionate about [HB 1127] because I was a volunteer fireman for over 35 years,” said Krull, who is in his first year of representing District 30 and serves on the House Committee on Appropriations. “Those firemen are the ones you see out in the middle of the night directing traffic, fighting fires, and helping us. And I don’t think it’s right that they are putting their lives on the line and have to go out and sell pancakes and fireman ball tickets in order to be funded.”
According to the bill’s language, $5 million would be set aside for volunteer fire departments “whose membership is comprised of at least seventy percent unpaid and volunteer firefighters.”
The floor was then open to questions or comments from the audience.
HB 1201, commonly known as the “Branding Bill,” was discussed. The bill would create an election process for the selection of the members of the state’s Brand Board, who are currently appointed by the governor. If enacted, the board’s membership would also expand from five to seven members.
“This bill needs to go through and we need to change [the Brand Board],” Krull said. “That’s what I’m getting behind…I was elected to represent you and that’s what I plan on doing.”
“There is a lot of opposition to [this bill],” explained Ladner, who serves on the House Agriculture and Natural Resources committee. “You have to fight for every win…you have to fight to advance our true values. Agriculture is our biggest industry in South Dakota and the Brand Board needs to be rebuilt or redone.”
“The governor right now appoints who she wants on the Brand Board…you guys (ranchers) need to decide who you want to represent you; it should not be a pick from the governor’s office,” said Frye-Mueller.
Fall River County Commissioner Joe Falkenburg rose to speak about the influx of new residents to the county and how this affects people’s taxes.
“We need to do something to address the rise in the number of [home] purchases we get that are higher values that raises everyone’s taxes,” said Falkenburg. “Some approach needs to be made so that taxes don’t just keep increasing for the common person.”
“We’ve tried that and it didn’t go,” said Frye-Mueller. “That is a big goal [in the legislature], but the biggest enemy is the Department of Revenue and you have to have the will of the legislators.”
The final 20 minutes of the crackerbarrel was reserved for Sen. Frye-Mueller to speak about her recent suspension and subsequent censure.
Frye-Mueller was suspended by the Senate on Jan. 26, 2023, due to “an allegation of unprofessional behavior,” according to a news release by Senate leadership the following day. After a hearing and an investigation by the Senate Select Committee on Discipline and Expulsion, the Senate on Feb. 1 voted 33-1 to censure Frye-Mueller, but at the same time also lifted her suspension.
Speaking about the incident at the crackerbarrel, Frye-Mueller said, in part, “I would like you all to know that it has been an honor and a true blessing to represent all of you for seven years. I didn’t do anything wrong and this is not over yet. It is unreal what we are going through.”
After closing comments, the audience then had the opportunity for some one-on-one time with Reps. Ladner and Krull.
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