Editorial: Should most Ohio retailers be required to accept cash as payment?

A recent editorial by the Cleveland Plain Dealer:

A downstate GOP lawmaker has done something that many might consider unusual for a Republican — introduce a bill in the Ohio Senate that would add a mandate for Ohio businesses. State Sen. Louis W. “Bill” Blessing III, of Colerain Township in Hamilton County, via Senate Bill 242 introduced last fall, wants the legislature to require most retail businesses in Ohio to accept cash payments.

This is largely, it seems, intended to stifle a trend the pandemic accelerated for “non-touch” electronic and credit-card payments. (Nonpartisan analysts at the Legislative Service Commission believe the bill is largely pre-emptive, since so few Ohio firms now bar cash payments.)

Denying customers the ability to pay in cash obviously harms those without bank accounts — the poor, marginalized and minority communities. But Blessing, an electrical engineer by training, also sees Big Brother dangers in an economy where all payments can be tracked, warning in his sponsor testimony that, “The sheer amount of data that is available about any given citizen through their transactions is disconcerting, to put it charitably.”

As Blessing also noted, similar legislation in New Jersey, Delaware and Colorado was sponsored by Democrats, showing the bipartisan potential of a bill that’s also likely to appeal to many older Americans’ preference for writing checks or paying cash.

The bill would exempt certain businesses, including parking lots and large stadiums. “Conceptually, this is a very simple bill,” Blessing said.

It’s also a bill that seems to be going nowhere fast. Since it was introduced Sept. 30, 2021, and assigned six days later to the Senate’s Small Business and Economic Opportunity Committee, it’s had just two hearings, both last fall – with testimony only from Blessing and two others, representing the Ohio Poverty Law Center and ACLU.

Blessing also has signed up zero co-sponsors to the bill, which seems destined to die at the end of this legislative session unless Senate President Matt Huffman — who likely doesn’t welcome cash payments at his family law firm in Lima — suddenly sees its merits and puts it on the calendar for the packed lame-duck session after the Nov. 8 election.

So, what does our Editorial Board Roundtable think? Cash is still legal tender in the United States. Does it need saving? Is Blessing onto something? Or is he going to have to go out and find some powerful co-sponsors before he tries again?

Leila Atassi, manager public interest and advocacy:

I’m sure legislators view this bill as a solution in search of a problem, given that most businesses do, indeed, accept cash. But it seems Blessing is correctly reading the trends here and attempting to protect a vulnerable sector of our population before technology renders their cash useless.

Ted Diadiun, columnist:

Rarely, I’ve tried to pay for a purchase with money and been told they don’t take cash. I’ve wanted to laugh at the incongruity. But we don’t need legislators to step in. It’s the proprietor’s right – and mine. If the place doesn’t want my dollars, I can go someplace else.

Thomas Suddes, editorial writer:

Yes. Legal tender is just that — legal tender — and using other payment setups simply enriches banks and credit card companies, who charge merchants a fee for such online payments.

Eric Foster, columnist:

A bank account is not required to get an Ohio Direction Card, the debit card that Ohio provides to those who obtain food assistance (SNAP). Family Dollar, The Dollar Tree, the gas station, and/or Walmart are not going cashless anytime soon. I understand the theory of cashless business harming the poor and unbanked. I just don’t think the reality supports that theory.

Lisa Garvin, editorial board member:

For me, cash is still king. Blessing is correct to raise privacy concerns over electronic transactions. I don’t want my detailed spending habits lurking in the cloud. Studies have shown that when people see real money leaving their wallet, they spend less and value their purchases more. Save the greenbacks!

Mary Cay Doherty, editorial board member:

I hope we don’t need laws requiring American businesses to accept American currency. Government’s economic interference often does more harm than good. But if cashless businesses become the norm, government should affirm citizens’ right to use cash. And shame on businesses that need government prodding to treat customers fairly.

Elizabeth Sullivan, opinion director:

Blessing is onto something with this bill and should reintroduce it next legislative session. Cash should be accepted by retailers, absent good reasons for not doing so.

— Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 23, 2022