When Florida legislators passed a bill aimed at preventing people from sharing sexually explicit photos of their ex-partners online, then-state Rep. Matt Gaetz cast one of just two House votes against it.

Six years later, with the now-congressman accused of having a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and sharing photographs of nude women with fellow lawmakers, the sponsor of the Florida legislation says Gaetz opposed it because he believed recipients of such images could use them however they wanted.

Tom Goodson, a Republican who retired from the Florida state House in 2018, told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday that Gaetz was the leading opponent of the nonconsensual pornography bill he spent years trying to pass. He described a meeting in which Gaetz said that if a person gives an intimate photo to a romantic partner, the image becomes the property of the recipient.

“Matt was absolutely against it. He thought the picture was his to do with what he wanted,” Goodson said, according to the newspaper. “He thought that any picture was his to use as he wanted to, as an expression of his rights.”

Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) is under investigation by the Justice Department for an alleged sexual relationship with an underage girl. (The Washington Post)

Representatives for Gaetz, who burnished an image as a Trump loyalist after his 2016 election to the U.S. House, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. The Panhandle Republican is being investigated by the Justice Department over allegations that he had an intimate relationship with the 17-year-old and paid for her travel. Investigators are also looking into whether he paid for sex with women in violation of federal sex-trafficking laws.

After news of the probe broke last week, two people told The Washington Post that Gaetz had boasted to people in Florida political circles about meeting women through a former county tax collector who is now charged with sex trafficking of a minor. Gaetz has denied the allegations, claiming the Justice Department is attempting to criminalize legal conduct and his family is being extorted.

Goodson could not be reached Tuesday. An email from his company, Goodson Paving, said the former lawmaker would not be providing further comment.

“The Orlando Sentinel quoted him exactly and he has nothing else to add,” it said.

During his six years in the Florida Legislature, Gaetz, the son of a former Florida Senate president, saw his profile rise quickly. He was, the Orlando Sentinel reported, “a powerful opponent to legislation he didn’t like — like the bill to outlaw nonconsensual porn.”

Efforts to pass legislation tackling what is sometimes called “revenge porn” dated back to 2013, the newspaper reported. In 2014, a bill cleared the Senate, but the House version, which Goodson sponsored with 17 other legislators, died in a criminal justice subcommittee. At the time, the subcommittee was chaired by Gaetz.

Speaking anonymously, lawmakers and lobbyists involved with the bill pointed to Gaetz as one of the chief opponents, Florida Trend reported around that time. But they would not say so publicly.

“If you crossed him, he was after you,” Goodson told the Orlando Sentinel on Monday.

There was bad blood between the two lawmakers over other issues, as well, according to Florida Trend. A microphone caught Goodson using an expletive to describe Gaetz in 2014 after Gaetz questioned him about an arcane piece of legislation in what the outlet described as an apparent effort to make him look “unprepared or foolish.”

In 2015, the nonconsensual pornography bill finally passed. Besides Gaetz, the only other no vote in the House came from then-Rep. John Tobia, his former roommate in Tallahassee. Tobia, now a Brevard County commissioner, did not respond to an email seeking comment on the legislation.

The bill signed into law was a watered-down version of what was first proposed, the Orlando Sentinel reported. While the Senate version would have made it illegal to text or email explicit photos without consent, the House narrowed the scope to images posted online. Emails and texts remained legal.

The Senate had to accept the weaker version when the House’s speaker suddenly ended its session early during a fight between the two chambers over Medicaid legislation. Lawmakers who supported the legislation were critical of the changes, with Republican state Sen. David Simmons telling Florida Trend the bill that passed had “major defects.”

Florida legislators ultimately strengthened the law in 2019, three years after Gaetz departed for Washington, updating it to include photos shared through text messages and “other electronic means.”

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