A cashless society: Lawmakers in FL want to protect residents’ rights to pay via cash at businesses

By: - October 13, 2021 7:00 am

Cash. Credit: Svetl. Royalty-free Collection: iStock / Getty Images Plus.

A cornerstone of society is the freedom to pay for products and services through a variety of payment methods, from cash and coins to credit and debit cards.

And as technology evolves, digital payment options also have become popular, such as Apple and Google Pay using smartphones and online platforms through PayPal.

That said, concerns have been raised about a continued shift to a cashless society, though lawmakers in Florida and some other states want to prevent that from happening.

State lawmakers from both chambers of the Florida Legislature have recently introduced legislation to protect the use of cash at retailers, with bills being considered during the 2022 legislative session.

“There are a lot of people who don’t have a credit card. They don’t even have credit. They don’t have a bank account,” state Rep. Matt Willhite, a Democrat representing part of Palm Beach County, said in a phone conversation Tuesday with the Florida Phoenix.

“They may not have a smart phone; they may not have an online service. What are all those people supposed to do, whether it’s during a pandemic or not, to be able to purchase goods for their family?”

Last week, Willhite introduced HB 233, which would “require certain businesses to accept cash payments for certain transactions,” while prohibiting fees or other conditions attached to cash payments. The legislation would apply to money transactions where customers are “physically present at the place of business.”

“I still believe that a hard day’s work earns a hard day’s pay. And that pay, in my mind, is cash,” Willhite said.

Willhite’s experience

The idea to propose a measure that would ensure customers are able to provide cash payments for goods and services at Florida businesses was prompted, in part, by Willhite’s experience at a restaurant that only accepted card payments.

State Rep. Matt Willhite, a Democrat representing part of Palm Beach County. Credit: Florida House of Representatives.

“I ate at a restaurant a couple of months back. … All three of us are at the table with our bills and they put their credit cards down and I put down cash and the guy says, ‘Well, we don’t take cash,’ “Willhite said.

“And he was able to do that. But what would I do if I didn’t have a credit card to pay my bill? Would I have had to do dishes for an hour or two hours to pay my bill?”

Meanwhile, a cashless society would harm many populations, such as workers in the service industry and tourists coming to explore Florida who only have cash on hand, Willhite said. He told the Phoenix that he believes this is the first time the measure has been proposed in Florida.

“We have tourism and people that come into this country from all other countries,” he said.

“A lot of them bring cash with them and they want to spend it here. And if they don’t have a credit card here or an online account to be able to buy things, how are those tourists supposed to come here and spend money?”

Overall, nearly 7.1 million or 5.4 percent of U.S. households don’t have bank accounts, according to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation’s latest survey in 2019. In comparison, about 94.6 percent of U.S. households had banked in 2019.

“Lower-income households, less-educated households, Black households, Hispanic households, American Indian or Alaska Native households, and working-age disabled households were less likely to use bank credit,” according to the survey.

Jones files bill too.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat representing part of Broward and Miami-Dade counties, also is sponsoring  a bill to protect the use of cash.

Jones told the Phoenix that the bill could face opposition from groups such as the Florida Chamber of Commerce but said he’d spoken “with two Republican members” in the Senate and “they like the bill.”

The Phoenix is awaiting a response from the Florida Chamber of Commerce regarding whether it supports the measure.

State Sen. Shevrin Jones. Credit: Florida Senate website.

Jones stressed the importance of the legislation protecting “Black and brown communities” that could be disproportionately affected by cashless transactions because many “don’t have access to a bank, credit or debit card.”

According to the U.S. Department of Treasury, there is no federal law “mandating that a private business, a person or an organization must accept currency or coins as for payment for goods and/or services.”

The agency explains on its website that “private businesses are free to develop their own policies on whether or not to accept cash unless there is a state law which says otherwise.”

Recently, some cities and states have already enacted laws to protect the use of cash at retailers.

According to a report from The Pew Charitable Trusts, “left-leaning leaders” in cities and states such as New York, Philadelphia, and San Francisco as well as New Jersey and Massachusetts have passed laws to prohibit cashless stores.

Those bills had received some pushback from business groups such as the National Federation of Independent Business, arguing that “retailers should be free to choose how to serve their customers,” The Pew Charitable Trusts wrote.

But advocates against businesses adopting payment systems where customers only can pay with digital currency argue that it would exclude many people who aren’t able to obtain credit cards and don’t have bank accounts.

“There are a lot of places that have started to move away from cash but what’s even worse is the [COVID-19] pandemic has now increased people’s use of a cashless system, whether it’s an excuse or for a real purpose, which is to not interact with cash in your hand,” Willhite said.

“I think technology is moving in the right direction. The problem is we can’t forget that not everybody can keep up with that technology.”

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Issac Morgan
Issac Morgan

Issac Morgan is a 2009 graduate of Florida A&M University's School of Journalism, and a proud native of Tallahassee. He has covered city council and community events at the Gadsden County Times, worked as a sports news assistant at the Tallahassee Democrat, a communications specialist for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and as a proofreader at the Florida Law Weekly.