The Law, Veterans & Tobacco
AG Wilson sees veterans getting help, announces tobacco settlement money
SC Attorney General Alan Wilson wanted to watch his VALOR staff interact with veterans in the field. A Greenwood veterans’ fair last Wednesday was a great place to do that.
But why leave Columbia, where there’s work waiting, travel there and back just for a walk-through? For Wilson, any chance to drive an hour for a meeting is a chance to add five or six meetings on top of the initial purpose of the trip.
So, he spent parts of April 24 talking to former employee and now 8th Circuit Solicitor David Stumbo, meeting at The Clock in Laurens with the newest member of the SC General Assembly, Laurens County Council member Stewart Jones, and with Police officials, then going six miles down Hwy 76 to talk with Clinton Mayor Bob McLean, Police Chief Sonny Ledda and the chief’s second in command Crystal Roberts.
During an interview at The Chronicle, Wilson took a call from Laurens County Sheriff Don Reynolds. The attorney general offered free training for a local officer in how to combat internet sexual predators, stalking and bullying.
He had an evening meeting with the Presbyterian College Young Republicans. Just another day, out of the office.
Is this a concerted effort, or just opportunity? “Both,” Wilson said. “I try to take as many meetings as I can.”
That way, he’s outside the “capital bubble” and talking to people on the front lines of judicial reform, community policing and running cities strapped for cash. “I want to talk to leaders and first responders.”
And veterans. From his own military experience, Wilson knows when men and women are discharged, they move away from legal services they’ve come to rely on while in service to the nation.
That’s where VALOR comes in (veterans, active-reserves, legal out-reach). It started 2 years ago, and two members of the AG’s staff, both veterans, provide the legal services, wills, and powers of attorney. “They get the veterans’ benefits, but many times their circumstances change. We facilitate access to the scattered services. We raise awareness, work with the SC Bar and hold clinics.”
Last Wednesday’s event was the Veterans Appreciation Day conducted at the Greenwood County Veterans Center (former county library) on North Main St. in Greenwood. The veterans service director there, Carey Bolt, also is Laurens County’s veterans’ officer. His local office is in the basement of the historic courthouse in downtown Laurens.
The Greenwood County Veterans Center also provides a permanent home for the Greenwood Hall of Heroes.
The event featured door prizes and free gifts, complimentary light lunch, free massage therapy for veterans, and IdenToGo for anyone who made an appointment on-line for free fingerprinting.
Wilson said he met one WWII-era veteran in his 90s, several of the Vietnam era, and many Iraq-Afghanistan veterans. There were a couple hundred people there, Wilson estimated. “We fill a gap for them, and their spouses, too,” Wilson said of VALOR.
All that was out-of-office work.
In-office, the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office made a major announcement last week. The State is receiving $78,723,031.53 as its share of the annual tobacco Master Settlement Agreement Payment.
The figure changes year to year, but Wilson said it’s larger this year than normal. It’s not “glamorous” work, he said, but it is essential that state forces not allow new tobacco companies or foreign tobacco to have a competitive advantage in South Carolina, per terms of the agreement.
Big Tobacco has an army of attorneys and investigators just waiting for states to do something, or not do something, so they can legally suspend the payment.
Some settlement money goes to enforcement - most goes to SC Medicaid.
The payment stems from a 1998 lawsuit of 46 states, the District of Columbia and 5 territories settling claims with the then 4-major US cigarette manufacturers.
It is the largest financial recovery in legal history.
In exchange for the money, the state is required to “diligently enforce” the agreement terms that include a protection against unfair trade advantage. To that end, Wilson got bi-partisan support for a law that requires cigarette packs to have a blue stamp, proving legal sale. At one point, South Carolina was one of just 3 states in the country not to have a “stamp act”.
“The stamp proves the cigarettes come through legal standards,” Wilson said. Since 1998, SC had received $1.59 billion in its share of tobacco settlement payments.