TALLAHASSEE - For the first time since shortly after the Civil War, it is no longer a crime for unmarried men and women to shack up in the Sunshine State. Gov. Rick Scott signed 20 bills into law Wednesday, including a long-discussed repeal of the state's rarely enforced ban on unmarried men and women living together.
The repeal became law with Scott's approval. The signing (SB 498) leaves Michigan and Mississippi as the only states that make cohabitation illegal, according to a Senate analysis of the bill, which was approved during this year's legislative session without opposition in the Senate and with only five dissenting votes in the House.
Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat who co-sponsored the repeal, argued on the House floor that the ban had impacted seniors as well as younger singles.
"I represent communities of seniors, where a lot of them are technically not married,'' Stark said. "They are living together, but it makes more sense financially or for whatever reason like Social Security to not be married. I don't think that they want to be considered to be violating the law."
Opposing the repeal were Republicans 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.
A House staff analysis noted the cohabitation law has rarely been used to bring criminal charges, but it has been used in other ways. As an example, the analysis said the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation suspended a company's liquor license in 1979 after finding that six people tied to the company were in violation of the law.
Enacted in 1868, the law declared it illegal for men and women to "lewdly and lasciviously associate and cohabit together" without being married. Violators could face second-degree misdemeanor charges.
The measure signed by Scott does not impact another part of state statute on lewd and lascivious behavior, maintaining the misdemeanor charge for men and women, married or unmarried, who engage in "open and gross lewdness."
Among the other bills signed into law Wednesday was a wide-ranging measure (SB 698) that, in part, will allow the state Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to issue alcoholic beverage licenses to the owners of railroad transit stations that are used for passenger service between two or more cities.
Another new law (SB 218) will make it a first-degree misdemeanor to have two or more electronic benefit transfer cards and to sell or attempt to sell one of the cards. A second offense would be a third-degree felony. The intent of the law, which goes on the books Oct. 1, is to crack down on the trafficking of EBT cards, which help provide food assistance to low-income Floridians.
Also, starting July 1, a new law (SB 1202) will require county and municipal parks to offer full or partial entry-fee discounts to current members of the military and honorably discharged veterans. Also, the discounts will apply to spouses and parents of members of the military who died in combat, and spouses and parents of emergency first responders who died in the line of duty.