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After 148 years, cohabitation legal again in Florida


Congratulations, all you unmarried lovers in Florida who are shacking up together. You are no longer breaking the law.

Among the 20 new laws that Republican Gov. Rick Scott signed Wednesday is a bill that immediately repeals Florida’s 148-year-old ban on cohabitation.

The previous law, enacted in 1868, made it a second-degree misdemeanor — punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine — for a man and a woman to “lewdly and lasciviously associate” and live together before marriage.

Florida had been one of only three states to still criminalize cohabitation. Now only Michigan and Mississippi make it illegal.

Lawmakers have for years bemoaned the outdated law and attempted to take it off the books.

Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, and Democratic Reps. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, of Tallahassee, and Richard Stark, of Weston, led the charge this year. During the 2016 session, they were finally successful in passing the repeal measure (SB 498) out of both chambers in early March, with supporters calling the law “antiquated” and unnecessary.

Criminal penalties for cohabitating were rarely enforced, but according to a legislative analysis, “cohabitation laws have been used as rationale to sanction people in a civil context.” For instance, in 1979, the state suspended a company’s liquor license after finding six company employees or representatives had violated the cohabitation law.

The repeal bill passed unanimously out of the Senate and was approved by the House by a 112-5 vote.

Five conservative Republicans opposed it. They were: Reps. Janet Adkins of Fernandina Beach, Brad Drake of Eucheeanna, Mike Hill of Pensacola Beach, Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora and Charles Van Zant of Keystone Heights. Shortly after the House vote, Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, changed his vote to “no” also, but that doesn’t count in the official vote tally.

Meanwhile, Scott also signed SB 716, which calls for establishing a Florida Holocaust Memorial at the state Capitol Complex in Tallahassee.

And he signed a bill that renames a Broward County state park after two African-American pioneers.

SB 288 renames John U. Lloyd State Park as Von D. Mizell - Eula Johnson State Park. Mizell was Fort Lauderdale’s first black doctor and Johnson was the county’s first NAACP president.

In the years before the civil rights movement, Fort Lauderdale’s world famous beach was off limits to black residents, and they were restricted to what was then known as “Colored Beach” at John U. Lloyd State Park, just south of Port Everglades.

The park was originally named for a former county attorney who handled the paperwork creating the park, but Sen. Chris Smith — the Fort Lauderdale Democrat who sponsored the bill — said the time had come for the state to change its name.

“John Lloyd is a good man,” Smith said last month when the measure passed the Senate, “but now is a good time to acknowledge why we have the park.”


Here is a complete list of bills that Scott signed Wednesday:

-- SB 88  Gold Star License Plates – This bill revises the list of military family members that are eligible for a Gold Star license plate.

-- SB 90  A Natural Gas Rebate Program – This bill revises the application process for the Natural Gas Rebate Program.

-- SB 100  Pollution Discharge Removal and Prevention – This bill revises certain provisions of the Petroleum Restoration Program and other contaminated site cleanup regulations.

-- SB 218  Offenses Involving Electronic Benefits Transfer Cards – This bill enhances criminal penalties for public assistance fraud.

-- SB 230  Missing Persons with Special Needs – This bill creates pilot programs to implement new search and rescue efforts in cases of missing persons with special needs.

-- SB 288  State Designations – This bill renames the John U. Lloyd Beach State Park as the Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park and re-designates other structures within the park.

-- SB 380  Violation of an Injunction for Protection – This bill increases penalties for offenders who commit three or more violations of a domestic violence injunction.

-- SB 498  The Repeal of a Prohibition on Cohabitation – This bill repeals a law relating to cohabitation.

-- SB 540  Estates – This bill revises the law relating to estates.

-- SB 698  Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco – This bill revises various provisions in the Florida Beverage Law.

-- SB 716  The Florida Holocaust Memorial – This bill establishes the Florida Holocaust Memorial in the State Capitol Complex.

-- SB 1106  International Trust Entities – This bill provides a one year moratorium for organizations providing services to international trust entities.

-- SB 1110  The Central Florida Expressway Authority – This bill makes administrative changes to the Central Florida Expressway Authority.

-- SB 1170  Health Plan Regulatory Administration – This bill aligns Florida Statutes with federal law.

-- SB 1176  Dredge and Fill Activities – This bill authorizes the Department of Environmental Protection to issue additional dredge and fill permits.

-- SB 1202  Discounts on Public Park Entrance Fees and Transportation Fares – This bill provides discounts on park entrance fees and transportation fees for veterans.

-- SB 1274  Limited Sinkhole Coverage Insurance – This bill allows insurers to offer a new type of limited sinkhole insurance coverage.

-- SB 1288  Emergency Management – This bill revises definitions and establishes a statewide system to facilitate transport and distribution of essentials during a disaster.

-- SB 1294  Victim and Witness Protection – This bill enhances protections for minors and victims.

-- SB 1318  Shellfish Harvesting – This bill directs the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection to protect shellfish beds and authorizes additional methods of shellfish harvesting.

Herald/Times reporter Steve Bousquet contributed to this report.