Attempt to expedite ethics probe of Minnesota state senator charged with burglary fails on tie vote

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — A Republican attempt to expedite an ethics investigation of a Democratic Minnesota state senator who's facing a felony burglary charge failed on a tie vote Wednesday.

Sen. Nicole Mitchell, of Woodbury, was absent as the Senate reconvened for the first time since her arrest early Monday at her estranged stepmother's home in the northwestern Minnesota city of Detroit Lakes. Mitchell was charged Tuesday with one count of first-degree burglary and allowed to go free after a day in jail.

Mitchell's arrest has already complicated the remainder of the 2024 legislative session because Senate Democrats hold just a one-seat majority, making her vote critical for passing disputed legislation. Republican leaders have called on her to resign. But Democratic Majority Leader Erin Murphy, of St. Paul, told reporters that Mitchell will be allowed to vote remotely.

According to the criminal complaint, Mitchell told police she broke into her stepmother’s home because her stepmother refused to give her items of sentimental value from her late father, including his ashes. Her attorney said the dispute arose out of a “fractured relationship” between the two that has been aggravated by age-related issues. In a Facebook post, Mitchell denied stealing.

Senate Republicans filed an ethics complaint against Mitchell before the Senate convened Wednesday, then forced a vote on a motion to immediately launch the investigation and consideration of her expulsion. Under normal Senate rules, it could take 30 days just to start the process, which would delay any action until after the legislative session.

“Senators must be held to the highest standard of ethical conduct," GOP Sen. Eric Lucero, of St. Michael, told his colleagues. "Public trust has been violated. We must have a swift examination of this serious felony charge to ensure the integrity of this institution and the state of Minnesota is upheld.”

But Democratic Sen. Nick Frentz, of North Mankato, told them Mitchell is entitled to due process and the presumption of innocence. He said other lawmakers charged with crimes in recent years were allowed to go through the legal process.

Mitchell's desk was empty for the debate, which ended in a 33-33 vote.

Murphy said a timeline for considering the GOP ethics complaint has yet to be decided.

But the process is designed to be difficult. The Senate ethics panel is made up of two Democrats and two Republicans, and any vote to expel a senator would require a two-thirds majority.

Steve Karnowski, The Associated Press