John Rafferty is the Republican nominee for attorney general. His platform is “moving Pennsylvania forward,” which includes instituting school safety task forces and a heroin strike force. The Brown and White spoke to Rafferty on Oct. 7 about the policies he would institute as attorney general of Pennsylvania.
The Brown and White also conducted a Q&A session with Rafferty’s opponent, Josh Shapiro.
Q: In your own words, what is the role of the attorney general and how does that role affect college students?
A: The Office of Attorney General was created by the legislature back in the 1980s, and that clearly spells out the Office of Attorney General is the chief law enforcement official for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and the chief lawyer for the people of the commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Within the jurisdiction of the Office of Attorney General is also the responsibility, again, to cover jurisdiction with the (district attorneys), and in some instances the DAs of local counties have the first instance to prosecute and then the attorney general could back them up or take the cases if they don’t want them. Certain areas where the attorney general does have some precedence certainly on inter-county crimes, on insurance fraud, on Medicaid fraud — which is people stealing taxpayer dollars — on political corruption, and it’s a chance to review the workings of state agencies. And also any information or any conduct that’s uncovered by any state agencies in their prescribed duties, such as Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Health, if they see something that they believe rises to the level of criminal behavior, they would refer the case to the Office of the Attorney General.
Q: In the spring of 2014, a Lehigh student vandalized Umoja, a multicultural house on campus, with racial slurs. The student was expelled and the university was federally investigated. However, the university signed a voluntary resolution with the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights in order to avoid sanctions. Some felt this was a slap on the wrist. How, as attorney general, will you ensure that universities are fully held accountable?
A: First of all you have state-owned facilities, state-related facilities and private facilities. You would work closely
with the university on whatever you could do to help with the educational aspect. If there was a prosecution, it would first be up to the Lehigh County district attorney. So the Lehigh County district attorney would make the decision whether or not there was a criminal prosecution, if the DA couldn’t handle it or didn’t want to handle it or saw a conflict, he can refer to the Attorney General. Now, if there was a level of criminal behavior that was warranting charging and a criminal prosecution, if the DA doesn’t do it, then the Attorney General can petition to go ahead and prosecute on behalf. I haven’t seen the facts of the case, that’s how normally a case would work, anybody who tells you different is just not telling you the law.
Q: The Clery Act was started because of an incident that happened at Lehigh. There have been complaints in recent years that colleges were not compliant with the Clery Act. How will you ensure universities are in compliance with the Clery Act and fully disclosing crime?
A: That’s something that certainly we’ll work with the Department of Education on, the higher education aspect and making sure that universities are doing it. It’s vitally important. . . . You have to lay it out there that we’ve had this many assaults or this may reported crimes, so the students can make an objective decision when it comes time to select the universities they want to attend. And that’s any of them, state-related and private. Any of them have to be held accountable to disclose that information. That information should be shared with the Department of Education. We find out that they’re bypassing then we work with the Department of Education as to which avenue we want to take to go after that university to force them to do it whether its criminal prosecution, a matter of sitting down with them and getting them to release that information, but it’s all information that should be transparent.
Q: There are stories on college campuses about police or administrative officials encouraging victims of sexual assault to not go through with rape kits, be examined by the hospital or press charges against their attacker. How will you work to combat this?
A: That type of behavior will be intolerable, will not be acceptable under standards set by society nor would it be acceptable under the law. If that’s brought to our attention or we uncover something like that, we’ll throw the full weight of the authority of the Office of the Attorney General behind getting that individual.
Q: How will your School Safety Task force initiative affect college campuses, whether public or private?
A: It will affect all. We’re going to start with the public school system to make sure this task force we’re assembling of attorneys, mental health workers, people in education and certainly a DAG would oversee it, to go in to educate the schools on what to look for troubled individuals or signs they may be able to detect that there’s an individual in trouble, be able to report them. And then in the instance, God forbid, but we’ve seen it happen, someone comes into a school with intent to do harm to the individuals in the school, we’re going to train the faculty, the staff and the students on how to react and how to protect themselves and keep themselves safe in that situation until law enforcement arrives. We’ll do that at public schools first and then we’re going to work it on to the college campuses where, unfortunately as you’ve seen, and I’ve seen in other states, they’re coming on the college campuses. . . . I’m willing to commit the Office’s resources to do that and I’ve already spoken to the legislature about undertaking that, and the Chester County’s DA ’s office is very forward thinking in what they’ve done for some of the local schools in Chester County. We’ll take some of their ideas, modify and adopt them for the whole commonwealth and the entire school system, and when I say that I mean elementary, primary, pre-K, up through our colleges.
Q: I know that in certain states they are considering laws that college students may be able to have concealed weapons on college campuses. Where do you stand on that issue?
A: Well, each of the colleges adopts rules of their own. Certainly if you have the right to bear arms, if you have a license to bear arms, to carry, that’s one thing. The colleges and the legislature, not the attorney General, will make the determination as to whether there will be a right to bear arms on college campuses. Believe me when I say this, it would take a legislative initiative and bill to address the situation in Pennsylvania.
Q: You have the multi-pronged strategy for the heroin strike force. How will that correspond to other drugs, and what is your stance on the legalization of marijuana?
A: I voted yes on medical marijuana, and only medical marijuana and not the other recreational forms of marijuana. I believe marijuana is a gateway drug. And as attorney general, I, months ago, outlined my task force on the heroin problem here in the commonwealth and it certainly will apply to cocaine, crack cocaine and meth. Now, heroin we see over the years all the different uses of that drug. But this would be prong No. 1 — education. I’ve had round table discussions where we start talking about going into high schools and junior high schools, and the teachers say you really have to start in elementary school. You have got to start educating these kids in third and fourth grade about the dangers of alcohol and drugs. So we’re now revamping the program to start an education aspect in elementary school and all the way through. Prosecution-wise, we’ll partner with the DAs — which hasn’t been done in years in Pennsylvania — and have state troopers working very closely with the attorney general’s office to utilize all of our resources to go after these peddlers of poison.
Q: What as attorney general will you do to make college more affordable or crack down on fraudulent loans?
A: I don’t know what other states do, but the Office of Attorney General of Pennsylvania is clearly spelled out. The only way you can get involved in that is if you know that there is a criminal fraud being committed and you can go in there somehow. Or, the Department of Education, which has oversight of colleges here in Pennsylvania, makes a referral to the Office of Attorney General, and says, ‘Please check this out on this campus,’ then you can send in the agents to take a look at it. As far as setting tuition, that’s not the Office of Attorney General, setting tuition on state colleges is kind of left up to them. However, the legislature does have some oversight on those areas.
Q: Lehigh has been described as a politically apathetic campus. In an election year where students (appear) more disheartened than ever from the political system, why is it important for students to vote?
A: I encourage every person in Pennsylvania, college students through senior citizens, to look at the entire ballot. I realize all the attention is on Donald (Trump) or Hillary (Clinton) and then the next level would be Pat (Toomey, the incumbent senator) or Kate (McGinty, Toomey’s opposition), but you really need to look at the statewide offices, especially the attorney general. The attorney general is one of the most important offices in the commonwealth. It can affect change for the betterment of the people of Pennsylvania. . . . If you really want the commonwealth of Pennsylvania and all its college campuses and all its neighborhoods and all of its counties (to) run properly and go in the right direction, you have to become engaged and vote for all those offices below the president.
Editor’s note: This interview has been edited for clarity and length.