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  1. Florida Politics

After 148 years, shacking up is legal again in Florida

Published Apr. 7, 2016

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Lawmakers have for years bemoaned the outdated law and attempted to take it off the books.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

Scott on Wednesday also signed 19 other bills into law, including 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."

Times/Herald Tallahassee Bureau reporter Steve Bousquet contributed. Contact Kristen M. Clark at kclark@miamiherald.com Follow @ByKristenMClark.