FILE - Matt Willhite, Florida Legislature

Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, is congratulated by Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, after her bill passed Tuesday, April 23, 2019, in the Florida Senate in Tallahassee, Fla. 

(The Center Square) – A proposed Florida bill would require point-of-sale retailers to accept cash for goods and services or face fines up to $10,000.

House Bill 233, filed by Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, and Senate Bill 408, sponsored by Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, are designed to ensure Floridians without credit cards, bank accounts and smartphones can participate in a rapidly digitalizing economy.

“A cashless economy is not an inclusive economy. Getting a credit or debit card often requires money to deposit or financial history,” Willhite tweeted after pre-filing HB 233 for the 60-day 2022 legislative session that begins Jan. 11.

“Excluding people from paying with cash essentially blocks low-income people, homeless people, and so many others from participating in the economy,” he continued. “Cash is freedom and freedom is the ability to choose how you pay for goods and services.”

HB 233/SB 408 would require “any business operating at a fixed, permanent physical premises, from a vehicle or other mobile space, or from a temporary physical premises,” to accept cash.

The proposed measure prohibits fees or conditions for cash transactions and bestows rule-making responsibility on the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services (DACS).

HB 233/SB 408 only applies to in-person sales and identifies numerous businesses that can require cashless payments, such as commercial parking lots and professional services, from architects and attorneys to healthcare practitioners.

Under the bill, a business that violates the law could incur fines up to $2,500 for a first offense, $5,000 for a second, $10,000 for third and subsequent offenses.

Willhite told Florida Politics that the number of businesses refusing to accept cash increased significantly during the pandemic and that trend is likely to continue.

“I think it’s been heightened and elevated because of COVID. A lot of people use it as a reason for why they really won’t take” cash, he said.

A March report by San Francisco-based Square Inc., which produces mobile apps that process transactions used by more than 2 million businesses worldwide, confirms COVID-19’s impact on global commerce and payments behavior.

Between March 2020 and March 2021, Square said, “We’ve seen the share of cashless businesses more than double in the U.S., Australia, Canada and the UK, and nearly double in Japan. In February 2020 in the U.S. alone, just 6.3% of Square sellers were cashless businesses, which jumped to 14% by February 2021. During that same period, the share of cash transactions decreased from 37.4% in February 2020 to 30.5% in February 2021.”

According to Statista, 38% of point-of-sale payments in the U.S. in 2020 were made by credit card, 25% by debit card, followed by cash, 14%.

By 2023, Statista projects “digital or other contactless technologies” will generate more than $220 billion in sales with U.S. smartphone users' “mobile payment services” use more than doubling from the 25.3% who did so in 2018.

According to a 2019 Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) study, nearly 4% of Florida households were “unbanked” without access to a debit/credit card. According to the National Center for Education Assistance, up to 1 million of Florida’s 7.4 million households did not own smartphones or have home digital service in 2019.

HB 233/SB 408 is similar to an Ohio proposal filed by Sen. Louis Blessing III, R-Colerain Township. Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and New Jersey are among states that require retailers to accept cash. Washington D.C.’s Cashless Retailers Prohibition Act of 2019 went into effect on March 16.

Willhite said he expects pushback from the Florida Chamber of Commerce and other groups that oppose restricting businesses’ transactional choices, but said the bill is a “rough draft,” adding, “I am always open for amending and changing.”