By DAVID EGGERT
LANSING (AP) – With an eye toward re-election, Michigan Attorney General Bill Schuette starts his fourth year on the job looking to see through initiatives that he says will help crime victims.
He will keep pushing recommendations to combat human trafficking, including legislation that would treat teenage prostitutes as victims instead of criminals. He’s eager to see results from testing previously unprocessed rape-evidence boxes in Detroit.
Schuette also hopes partnering with federal prosecutors on an investigation of tainted steroids that killed 22 state residents bears fruit. And he plans to oversee a new confidential tip line so students can alert authorities to threats of school violence and suicide.
The first-term attorney general touted the anti-sex trafficking bills as proof Republicans and Democrats can work together. The legislation developed from Michigan’s first human trafficking commission, a panel that Schuette co-chaired, and could reach Gov. Rich Snyder’s desk in the new year.
“You can get things done, and you can provide solutions,” he told The Associated Press in a recent year-end interview. “We can solve problems, which people expect you to do.”
The conservative Republican’s emphasis on bipartisanship comes after a year in which his office took contentious legal positions on issues such as gay marriage, affirmative action and health care that aggravated Democrats.
Schuette fought to uphold Michigan’s 2004 constitutional amendment prohibiting gay marriage. A trial is scheduled for February in Detroit’s federal courthouse after a lesbian couple challenged a state ban on adoption by unmarried couples.
His name is part of a case, Schuette v. Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, on which the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to rule by late June. He wants to keep intact a 2006 change to the state constitution prohibiting the University of Michigan and other schools from considering race as a factor when choosing students.
“The premise there, and that’s why I think it’s going to be upheld, is that it’s fundamentally wrong to treat people differently based on the color of your skin or your gender or your ethnicity. We said no to that in Michigan,” Schuette said.
His office also wrote a brief to the country’s high court on behalf of Michigan and 17 other states contesting the federal health care law’s requirement that businesses cover contraception for employees. Christian families who own companies have filed lawsuits saying that insuring some forms of contraception such as the morning-after pill violates their beliefs.
Democrats have criticized the move as an attempt to deny women access to essential health services and accused Schuette of wasting tax money in an attempt to shore up his standing among tea party voters. The Supreme Court is expected to hear arguments as early as March.
“Anybody who would want to limit the choices and options of a woman on birth control is absolutely bonkers, is nuts, is crazy,” he said. “These HHS mandates are about religious liberty, and it’s about abortion-inducing drugs. It’s not about birth control. That has to be very clearly enunciated and sometimes emphasized. That’s what these lawsuits are about. My job as a defender of the Constitution is to do just that, and that’s why we’re engaged on this issue.”
Citing the state constitution, Schuette joined Detroit’s bankruptcy battle on behalf of city pensioners. He issued a legal opinion that Detroit Institute of Arts’ pieces can’t be sold or transferred to satisfy debts and the artwork is held in charitable trust for state residents.
Schuette also weighed in on legislation still bottled up in the Capitol. He opposed efforts to give current prisoners sentenced to life as juveniles a chance to argue for parole and expressed reservations with streamlining phone companies’ ability to transition away from traditional land lines.
Schuette, a veteran campaigner who has served in Congress and as a state appeals judge, sees 2014 as a strong year for Republicans – pointing to the opposition party’s advantage in the sixth year of a presidency.
“The governor and I are in strong shape,” he said. “You take nothing for granted. You got to earn it all the time. We need to solve problems and go forward.”
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