June 20, 2023
By: Scott Cole
On May 17, 2023, Governor Ron DeSantis signed into law House Bill 1521, which creates the Safety in Private Spaces Act (Act). The bill goes into effect on July 1, 2023, as Florida Statute Section 553.865.
What is the Safety in Private Spaces Act, and what does it mean for postsecondary educational institutions?
The Act makes any Florida postsecondary educational Institution or facility a covered entity under the Act. This includes a private college or university licensed by the Florida Commission for Independent Education.
A college or university that maintains a restroom must, at a minimum, have a restroom designated for exclusive use by females and a restroom designated for exclusive use by males, or a unisex restroom.
Likewise, a college or university that maintains a changing facility must, at a minimum, have a changing facility designated for exclusive use by females and a changing facility designated for exclusive use by males, or a unisex changing facility.
Are there any limitations to the Safety in Private Spaces Act?
The Act provides that a person may only enter a restroom or changing facility designed for the opposite sex under the following circumstances:
- For the purpose of assisting or chaperoning a child under the age of 12, an elderly person, or a person with a disability;
- For law enforcement or governmental regulatory purposes;
- To render emergency medical assistance or to intervene in any other emergency situation;
- For custodial, maintenance, or inspection when the restroom or changing facility is not in use; or
- When the appropriate designated restroom or changing facility is out of order or under repair, and the restroom or changing facility is not occupied by a person of the opposite sex.
Under the new Act, a person’s sex is determined solely by their sex at birth.
What are the penalties for a person who violates the Safety in Private Spaces Act?
The penalties for a person who willfully violates the Act depend on their relationship with the postsecondary educational institution.
The penalty for a person who is neither a student, administrator, nor instructional personnel of the institution is trespass, which is generally a misdemeanor unless the person is carrying a firearm.
Students, instructional or administrative personnel of private universities are subject to penalties imposed by the institution itself.
What are the consequences for colleges and universities that do not comply with the Safety in Private Spaces Act?
Beginning July 1, 2024, individuals can file complaints with the state Attorney General alleging that the college or university is not complying with the law. The Attorney General's office can issue penalties or take disciplinary action against any college or university found to be in violation. The state can also file a civil action in court and seek to fine the school up to $10,000 for the violation.
What measures can Florida colleges and universities take to ensure they are in compliance with the new Act?
To become compliant with the Act, Florida colleges and universities must undertake the following:
- Amend the student conduct code to make it a disciplinary violation for a student to willfully enter a restroom or changing facility restricted to individuals of a different sex than assigned to the student at birth and refusing to leave when asked by instructional, administrative, security, or student disciplinary personnel.
- Amend the employee disciplinary policies or regulations to add that an employee willfully entering a restroom or changing facility restricted to individuals of a different sex than assigned to the employee at birth and refusing to leave when asked by instructional, administrative, security, or student disciplinary personnel an employee constitutes employee misconduct.
- Submit documents to the Florida Department of Education showing compliance with the statute no later than April 1, 2024.