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Florida may ban most businesses from going cashless

The proposal has Republican and Democrat support.
 
A customer pays for a purchase using a card at Circle Coffee House in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 21, 2021.
A customer pays for a purchase using a card at Circle Coffee House in Fort Lauderdale on Dec. 21, 2021. [ SUSAN STOCKER | Sun Sentinel ]
Published Jan. 3|Updated Jan. 3

Grabbing a latte, a bagel or an empanada at Circle House Coffee in Fort Lauderdale requires a credit or debit card or smartphone payment app.

Cash isn’t accepted.

The same is true, as of Jan. 1, for tickets, a drink or snack at the Arts Garage visual and performing arts venue in Delray Beach.

The Broward County-owned arena in Sunrise, home to the Florida Panthers hockey team and venue for events ranging from a Drake concert to the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus, is a cashless building — even though naming rights are currently held by Amerant, “the largest community bank headquartered in Florida.”

The Amerant Bank Arena website advises patrons there aren’t any ATMs inside the building, which can accommodate 20,000 people.

Cashless trend

A growing number of businesses of all sizes are going cashless, requiring patrons to use credit or debit cards or smartphone apps to pay for their purchases.

The trend is an inconvenience for people who prefer to use cash.

It’s a big problem for others, including lower-income people who don’t have access to noncash payments and some older people who aren’t proficient with app-based payments.

And it’s alarming to those who fear moving toward a cashless society could impinge on individual freedoms if, say, technology is used by the banking system or government to prevent people from spending money the way they wish.

The Florida Legislature may slam on the brakes.

Refusing cash payments could become illegal for most Florida businesses in 2024 under legislation sponsored by state Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Miami-Dade County Democrat, and state Rep. Joel Rudman, a Panhandle Republican.

Cashless benefits

Marjorie Waldo, president and CEO of the Arts Garage in Delray Beach, said the overwhelming majority of people already use credit cards to buy tickets, to spend at the bar and to make donations.

On one recent night, which Waldo said was typical, about 25% of the drink and snack sales were made in cash.

The new year’s move to cashless payments will make for a better experience for patrons, she said.

Arts Garage can accommodate from about 200 people for a show with cabaret-style seating and about 300 if seating is arranged in rows.

When people line up at the bar to buy a drink or a snack, “it’s much quicker if it’s a tap or a swipe” than paying cash. Eliminating cash — which means a customer has to count the cash, the bartender has to count it and make change, then return it to the customer — will make the lines move much faster, she said.

It also makes things more efficient behind the scenes, Waldo said.

“It is easier for (cash) not to be counted by the bartender at the front end of the shift and at the back end, then verified by the house manager at the front end or the back end of the shift, and then counting by the leadership team, and then physically taken to the bank,” she said. “It’s not difficult (to accept cash) it’s just a little more streamlined and easier and less time-consuming.”

Arts Garage has been publicizing the change during introductions by the stage manager before shows, and through its email list of 20,000 and to 35,000 followers on social media. She said fewer than five people expressed concerns.

Waldo said Arts Garage is customer-focused, and regardless of the possible new law, if someone insists on paying with cash even with the new cashless policy, “we’d find a way to accommodate them,” possibly by requiring exact change.

Stephen Tulloch, the founder of Circle House Coffee, was out with his family the last week of the year and couldn’t immediately be reached for comment, a spokesperson said.

Left behind

Jones said there are significant drawbacks when businesses decline to accept cash.

“We are definitely leaving some people behind,” he said.

Payment methods like credit and debit cards aren’t as available to lower-income people as to those with higher incomes, and older people aren’t as likely to have or be comfortable with payment apps as people who are millennials or younger, Jones said.

“Everyone, regardless of their financial status or their background, deserves to take part in our economy,” Jones said. “We have to understand that there are also people who are not able to participate in the economy if we are saying now that cash is not accepted. Where does that leave people who don’t have a credit card?

“In a time when many businesses have transitioned to electronic-only means of payment, we can’t forget those individuals and families who do not have access to electronic payment and rely on cash,” he said.

When cash isn’t accepted, Rudman said, “you are basically disenfranchising or cutting off entire communities.”

Arena discovery

Rudman said he was struck by the phenomenon when he drove to Tampa to meet his son (who drove over from Florida Atlantic University) for a Duran Duran concert at Amalie Arena.

On the walk from the hotel to the arena, he said there were establishments that didn’t accept cash. Inside, it was impossible. “You couldn’t pay cash for popcorn. You can’t buy a beer for cash,” he said, making him wonder if his son would have gone on his own if he’d been able to eat.

“You’re not familiar with the problem until it confronts you in the face,” Rudman said.

On returning home, he found there were “many places across the state where people noticed these changes were taking place, where cash was not just discouraged, it wasn’t accepted at all.”

Like the Amalie Arena, home to the Tampa Bay Lightning hockey team, the big South Florida sports and entertainment venues are all cashless: Hard Rock Stadium, home to the Miami Dolphins; loanDepot park, home of the Miami Marlins; and the Kaseya Center, home of the Miami Heat.

At Hard Rock Stadium, the website explains, cash can be converted to prepaid VISA gift cards at several locations. The Kaseya Center has reverse ATMs, where people can deposit cash and get a debit card loaded with the amount of cash they’ve deposited.

Also cashless for food and drink purchases is the Hard Rock Live entertainment venue, part of a location that deals with lots of cash: the Hard Rock Hotel & Casino in Hollywood.

The biggest no-cash venue in South Florida, Hard Rock Stadium in Miami Gardens, is in Jones’ district. He said he hasn’t heard anything about the legislation from representatives of the stadium or its owner, the Miami Dolphins. A Dolphins spokesperson didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

Adelyn Biedenbach, vice president of communications for the Florida Panthers, which operates the Amerant Bank Arena, said the organization has a policy against commenting on pending legislation.

Rudman said those big venues would be covered by the legislation.

Details

The legislation (Senate Bill 106/House Bill 35) would require most businesses to accept cash payments and prohibit them from charging a fee or placing conditions on accepting cash. They’d have to accept cash for “any transaction involving the purchase of any tangible good or any service.”

It would apply to any business operating at a fixed physical location, from a vehicle or other mobile space, or from temporary physical premises.

And it would cover transactions in which the customer is physically present at the place of business. It would not apply to sales that are not conducted in person, including phone, mail and online transactions.

There are several exemptions. The proposed law would not apply to services that people traditionally haven’t expected to pay in cash. Among those exempt from having to accept cash: accountants, architects, attorneys, engineers, financial advisers, insurance agents, interior designers, software developers, management and other consultants, and some parking facilities.

Businesses wouldn’t have to accept cash in denominations larger than $20 if they suspect the use of counterfeit cash or for single transactions above $5,000.

Not universal

Bill Herrle, executive director of NFIB in Florida, expressed concerns.

“As of yet, we can’t see how it helps small business,” he said.

Herrle’s organization, formerly known as the National Federation of Independent Business, represents what he called “Main Street” businesses, and not any publicly held corporations.

“Business owners are very interested in having their final point of sale go as smoothly and as quickly and as accurately as possible. That’s their objective. And we don’t see how this enhances that, and in fact it could make it more difficult for some businesses,” Herrle said. “We don’t see the advantage, the benefit for businesses or the flow of commerce from this bill, but we’re happy to sit down with the sponsors and have them explain why they think it would. But we remain unconvinced at this point.”

The lawmakers say they’re willing to listen to concerns and compromise. For example, Rudman said, additional exemptions for parking facilities that aren’t already included in the legislation could be added. Jones said the bill would be changed to reflect existing law restricting cash payments involving secondary metals recyclers.

Rudman, a family practice physician in Navarre whose office regularly accepts cash, said it isn’t a burden.

“There are certain libertarians who feel as if we are somehow trying to tell businesses how to run their business, and to that I say horse hockey. Government tells me how to run my business every single day of my life as a physician. This is not an imposition on business, this is simply saying follow what is written on our currency,” Rudman said.

Rudman said he wants to put legal weight behind the statement on each bill that states “this note is legal tender for all debts, public and private.”

Though stated on U.S. currency, it’s not required by federal law. But states can require cash, and a Florida legislative staff analysis found 15 states have done so in the last five years.

Jones also said he doesn’t buy the assertion that it would hurt business. “It’s not limiting anyone from doing anything. It’s really ensuring that businesses are not missing out on being able to get revenue, and where people who need goods and services, that they are not boxed out from getting goods and services.”

Both also said the benefits from preserving the cash payment option outweigh any security concerns businesses may have related to handling cash.

Cash is declining

More and more people are going cashless.

It’s a trend that reflects increasing sentiment among consumers, especially younger ones. The move away from cash was fueled by the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, when many people didn’t want to touch money.

A 2022 report from the Pew Research Center found that the share of Americans who don’t use cash for any purchase in a week has gone up.

Pew reported 41% of those surveyed in 2022 said none of their purchases in a typical week are paid for using cash. That’s a significant increase from what Pew found in earlier surveys: 29% in 2018 and 24% in 2015.

The 2022 survey found 14% of people said all or almost all of their purchases in a typical week were paid with cash, down from 24% in 2015.

The rest used a mix of payment methods.

There were big demographic differences:

• 30% of people with household incomes below $30,000 said they used cash for all or almost all their purchases. Just 6% of people in households earning $50,000 or more a year said the same.

• 26% of Black adults, 21% of Hispanic adults and 12% of white adults said all or almost all of their purchases in a typical week are paid for with cash.

Conservative support

Plenty of people who use cash prefer the anonymity it provides.

Rudman cites a concern held by some in his district, in a deep-red Republican part of the state. (Republicans outnumber Democrats in his home county by almost 44 to 1.)

“Up here, my Republicans agree with me that we don’t want to devalue cash currency. We don’t want to shift to a digital currency where we can be tracked or monitored for every single purchase we make. We get a lot of conservative support for this bill,” he said. “We don’t want someone with the flick of a switch to cut off your assets. We want cash to be king.”

Bipartisanship

The partnership between Jones and Rudman stands out. Their districts are hundreds of miles apart geographically — and they’re even further apart philosophically.

Jones, a Democrat and prominent supporter of President Joe Biden, and Rudman, a Republican and strong supporter of Gov. Ron DeSantis, said their work together on the issues shows it’s possible to make things happen even in an era of hyperpartisanship.

“The bipartisanship to me is what’s key here. There are so many things that we can fight and argue about,” Rudman said. “There are so many more things that we agree on than disagree.”

The Senate version of the bill was passed in early December by its first committee — with all Republicans and Democrats voting in favor.

“Democrats and Republicans can actually work on good legislation together. We might have clear differences ideologically, but I think there are areas where we can meet in the middle and say ‘this make sense and this is good for Floridians,’” Jones said. “Everything does not have to be an argument. Everything doesn’t have to be so vitriolic. We can work together.”