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Bill To Repeal Cohabitation Ban Heads To Governor

Yoel Ben Avraham

It’s now up to the governor to decide whether more than half a million Florida couples are breaking the law. A measure to legalize cohabitation has passed in the legislature.

Under current law, cohabitation, or living lewdly and lascivious with a person of the opposite sex is a second degree misdemeanor. It’s punishable by a $500 dollar fine and 60 days behind bars. But the bill’s sponsor Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) says it’s a rule thousands of Floridians are breaking.

“Times have changed. Currently over a half a million couples are in Florida are breaking this law as we speak. The government should not intrude into the private lives of two consenting adults,” Sobel says.

And House Minority Leader Mark Pafford says many of the people breaking that law are likely working in the Capitol building.

“I think it actually relieves a lot of folks who are working here and even serving here," Pafford says.

Pafford told reporters he thinks this year is the right time to get the measure through.  

“I always talk about years ago there was the issue with helmets on motorcycle drivers. And it took like 10 years to get helmets as an option where they don’t have to wear them. During the same 10 years span, they tried to get helmets on kids riding bikes. Nothing ever really makes sense up here. For whatever reason it was time and it passed,” Pafford says.

Lawmakers have targeted Florida’s cohabitation law in their efforts to clean up the state’s books for years. But many have pushed back against the measure’s removal, arguing that repealing the rule could been seen as the state approving of what some might call inappropriate pre-marital relationships. And supporters argue the measure isn’t hurting anybody since it is rarely enforced. But Sobel says that’s not true. Data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement indicates nearly 400 people have been charged with the crime since 2011. And During a committee hearing on the measure earlier this year Bradenton Republican Senator bill Galvano said the rule could be used unfairly.

“Unfortunately because it’s on the books and not being enforced it still have the potential of being used as a segue to search of a premises. And that’s a concern because then you can always identify it as an underlying criminal activity to get a warrant to go in for maybe other purposes that you could not achieve that same warrant status on,” Galvano says.

And while shacking up is typically thought of as a young person’s thing, Sobel says in a state with a high senior population, the rule often impacts Florida’s retirees. The measure heads next to Gov. Rick Scott for approval.