Attorney general on tour of U.P.

ESCANABA – Winter weather prevented Michigan State Attorney General Bill Schuette from making a scheduled stop in Escanaba Thursday to announce his re-election campaign. The attorney general, who is on a tour of Michigan, still had much to say about his record and future in office.

“I’m convinced that 2014 will be a great year,” Schuette told the Daily Press in a phone interview.

Schuette, who describes himself as both a defender of the Constitution and a voice for victims, has been actively involved in a number of cases directly related to clauses found in the Michigan State Constitution.

One issue that the attorney general has addressed is the protection of the Michigan Natural Resources Trust Fund. The fund, which was created through a constitutional amendment in 1984, is used to develop public recreation lands and is supported by oil, gas, and other mineral lease and royalty payments.

As the state’s financial needs have changed, discussions have been had by legislators about using some of the fund’s money for other programs or projects, but an official opinion issued by the attorney general tells legislators to keep their hands off the fund.

“We all voted for that in the Constitution and I’m going to defend that,” said Schuette.

Schuette says he has also been defending a constitutional clause guaranteeing equal admissions treatment for students applying to Michigan universities that was passed in 2006 and a clause protecting the pensions of police officers and firefighters in Detroit.

“These are cops and firefighters who worked hard in a tough city,” said Schuette.

Perhaps the most controversial of Schuette’s recent actions is an emergency request for stay and appeal of a federal judge’s ruling striking down the state’s constitutional ban on same-sex marriage.

“I’m defending the pension clause, I’m defending the admission clause; I’m also defending the marriage clause that’s in the Constitution,” said Schuette.

The Marriage Amendment, as it has come to be known, was originally passed by voters in 2004 and was struck down by the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Cincinnati last Friday. Saturday more than 300 same-sex couples legally married in Michigan before the stay was issued. Gov. Rick Snyder stated Wednesday the marriages are legal but the rights tied to the marriages are suspended until the stay is lifted or the decision is upheld on appeal.

“The sooner the United States Supreme Court acts on that the better,” said Schuette.

Oklahoma, Virginia, Texas, and Utah have received similar rulings and were given stays pending appeal outcomes. Michigan’s ruling was not stayed pending the outcome of an appeal, however, Schuette sees the effects of these cases as important for Michigan.

“My opinion is the Utah case, which is more advanced than ours, will probably be the case decided by the Supreme Court,” he said.

Schuette also cites his work investigating unfair pricing and suspect business practices by the propane industry during a propane shortage this winter.

“When you expect to pay $3 a gallon to fill up your tank and get charged $8.50 something’s wrong,” said Schuette.

The attorney general’s office received more than 700 complaints about this winter’s unprecedented price hikes for propane prior to Schuette seeking investigative civil subpoenas. Sixty-five of those complaints were against Ferrellgas, Inc.

“Consumer protection is in the DNA of any attorney general,” he said, noting whoever becomes the attorney general will have to remain focused on consumer protection issues.

Schuette also cited his work for victims of rape and those forced into the sex trade by human trafficking.

More than 11,000 rape kits, which are used to identify rapists using DNA, remain untested in Michigan. Schuette believes that getting those kits tested should be a top priority.

“These women were victimized twice, once in the assault and once that (the perpetrators) were never prosecuted,” said Schuette.

In March of 2013 Schuette worked with the Michigan Legislature to create the Michigan Commission on Human Trafficking, which he co-chairs. The commission aims to assess the threat human trafficking poses to Michigan residents and to develop policy recommendations to promote its exposure and prevention.

“Young women who are forced to have sex are victims not criminals,” said Schuette.