Legislature shortchanges ban on no-cash businesses

Broken piggy bank with cash and coins on wooden background
While younger and wealthier people prefer to go cashless, older and less well-to-do Americans still use cash often.

A measure barring many brick-and-mortar businesses in Florida from refusing cash payments is dead after going ignored for months in both chambers of the Legislature.

Neither the Senate version of the bill (SB 408) filed Oct. 6 by Democratic West Park Sen. Shevrin Jones nor its House twin (HB 233) that Wellington Democratic Rep. Matt Willhite filed the same day saw a single hearing.

That’s because Republican Sen. Ed Hooper of Clearwater and Republican Rep. Nick DiCeglie declined to take up the proposal in the committees they run, effectively killing the bill before Jones or Willhite could advocate for it.

With less than a week to go before the end of Session, most committees can no longer meet without permission from Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls, meaning Jones and Willhite will have to wait until next year to see the measure through.

By then, even more businesses here will likely have gone cashless. In the first year of the pandemic, digital point-of-sale company Square reported seeing the share of cashless businesses more than double in the U.S. That trend tracks largely with young consumer demands as 68% of millennials and 71% of Gen Z shoppers prefer forgoing paper and coin tender, according to a new survey by software service company Thryv and Payments Dive.

The survey also found some 59% of consumers used digital wallets, touchless terminals and tap-to-pay platforms more frequently during the pandemic, and 71% said they plan to keep using cashless or contactless payments in the future.

But the shift toward businesses exclusively offering such payment options and eschewing cash has had an adverse effect on older and less well-to-do people.

Lower-income Americans are four times likelier than their higher-income neighbors to make all or almost all of their purchases with cash, according to the Pew Research Center, which found Black consumers were far more reliant on cash than White and Hispanic shoppers. Pew found 34% of Black consumers use cash as their primary form of payment compared to 15% of non-Hispanic Whites and 17% of Hispanics.

Thirty-four percent of adults under 50 told Pew they made no weekly purchases with cash, compared to 23% of those 50 and older. And 52% of Americans under 50 said they didn’t worry much about having cash on hand. That number was 38% for those 50 and older.

Announcing the legislation last year, Jones called it “startling” that no measures exist to protect Florida consumers who need access to necessary goods and services.

“We need to build an economy that is fair and inclusive, and preventing people from participating in their local economies does just that,” he said. “I urge our colleagues to join us in supporting this important legislation.”

Willhite agreed a cashless economy is not an inclusive one.

“Getting a credit or debit card often requires money to deposit or financial history,” he said. “Excluding people from paying with cash essentially blocks low-income people, homeless people and so many others from participating in the economy in the first place.”

The measure would have only applied to in-person transactions, and it would not have extended to parking facilities, accountants, architects, attorneys, engineers, financial advisers, insurance agents, interior designers, software developers and consultant services.

Businesses would have been able to refuse to accept cash if they suspected the money was counterfeit, if the cash denomination was larger than $20 or for single transactions exceeding $5,000.

Violators of the rule would be subject to hefty fines: $2,500 for a first offense, $5,000 for a second and up to $10,000 for a third, with subsequent offenses “to be assessed” by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

No federal law prohibits businesses from going cashless, though U.S. Rep. Donald Payne Jr. and U.S. Sen. Robert Menendez, both New Jersey Democrats, sponsored bills that would have created a federal rule and set $5,000-per-violation fines. But several state and local governments have enacted such mandates. They include the states of New Jersey, Massachusetts, Rhode Island and the cities of Philadelphia, New York City and San Francisco.

“They’ve seen no negative repercussions,” said Tom Valeo, a legislative assistant to Willhite. “It just helps bring more people into the economy.”

At least one local government in Florida is looking to also ensure the cash keeps flowing. The Miami-Dade County Commission is considering an ordinance that would prohibit retail businesses from refusing legal tender.

That item follows a report Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava’s office submitted to the Commission saying it would be “feasible to implement legislation prohibiting businesses from refusing cash payments” and that doing so “would ensure equal access to goods and services for all visitors, and residents of, Miami-Dade County.”

Speaking to Miami Today about the issue in April, Commissioner René García — who spent 16 years in the Florida Legislature before his election to the Commission in 2020 — argued it would be inappropriate to let businesses turn down perfectly good American money.

“It’s the dollar. It’s our currency, and it’s what we stand by and what we trade, and now businesses are saying, ‘That’s not good here,’” said García, a Republican. “I’m OK with people having an option, but to turn the dollar away for a credit card and then charging people interest on top of that? It’s a win for banks, not us.”

Jesse Scheckner

Jesse Scheckner has covered South Florida with a focus on Miami-Dade County since 2012. His work has been recognized by the Hearst Foundation, Society of Professional Journalists, Florida Society of News Editors, Florida MMA Awards and Miami New Times. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @JesseScheckner.


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