A Kentucky state lawmaker criticized for trying to pass legislation that would have benefited his liquor store business has been cleared of a criminal charge filed against him earlier this year.
Rep. Wesley Morgan, R-Richmond, was charged in April after police in Barbourville caught him moving alcoholic beverages between two of the four liquor stores he owns in Central Kentucky. At the time, state law banned liquor store owners from carrying alcohol across county lines without a transporter’s license, a law designed to curtail bootlegging.
Morgan tried to change that law during the legislative session, one of seven bills he filed that would have benefited liquor store owners like himself. He was criticized by an ethics watchdog group, and his bill did not pass. However, a similar bill sponsored by a fellow Republican lawmaker did pass. That bill said liquor store owners could transfer alcohol between their stores without a transporter’s license as long as they have “prior written approval of the administrator.”
That law went into effect July 1. But Morgan was charged April 26. Tuesday, Judge Wendell Hammonds dismissed that charge and said Morgan was allowed to “take advantage” of the new law even though it had not yet gone into effect.
Even without the new law, Hammonds said the old law was unconstitutional because it was antiquated and unequally enforced. For example, he said it was legal for a liquor store owner to transfer alcohol between stores in the same county, but illegal to take the alcohol to a store in another county. He said he agreed with a 2015 Clay County District Court opinion that ruled a portion of the law was unconstitutional.
Morgan said the charge has caused him “a lot of heartache” and said he has been “smeared” in the media. He said the legislature is filled with part-time lawmakers who have full-time jobs when the legislature is not in session, meaning farmers often file bills about farming and pharmacists often file bills about pharmacy.
“The only person that has been criticized has been me,” Morgan said.
Morgan was one of 16 Republicans to oust Democratic incumbents in the November election, giving Republicans a majority in the state House of Representatives for the first time in nearly a century. Morgan defeated former Democratic state Rep. Rita Smart by 76 votes in one of the closest races that year. Morgan could face Smart again in the 2018 election.
Morgan, 67, says he will run for re-election next year. But he hopes to have sold all of his liquor stores by then.
“I have no desire to hold a license to do anything in this state anymore if it all it’s going to do is bring criticism, even though it’s a legitimate business,” he said.