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Accepting Cash May Soon Be Required in Oregon

February 6th, 2020 by dk

Oregon’s retail landscape has long resembled the land that time forgot. Prices posted and prices paid are almost always the same, thanks to Oregonians’ refusal to consider a sales tax. And soon, Oregon may be one of the only states where Amazon won’t be allowed to set up its futuristic, fully automated convenience stores. The past is safe here, and it may get safer.

State Senator James Manning and five other chief sponsors introduced HB4107 this week for the short legislative session. If passed, it would (among other things) require private retailers to accept cash payments from customers. This may not seem like a necessary law to you, but that could be because you’re not among the estimated 10 million Americans nationwide who are what is called “unbanked.”

Latino and African American families are five times more likely than white families to not have access to a debit or credit card. When a store determines that taking cash is too risky or otherwise inconvenient, it might be called many things. But for those who have no plastic cards in their pocket, it represents one thing first: discrimination.

Massachusetts may be the only state where refusing to accept cash is currently illegal, though the law there is rarely enforced. Oregon is contemplating whether it’s a concept whose time has come. Amazon is not alone testing cashless retail, but they are the only company positioned to shake the status quo. SweetGreen sandwich shops are not aiming for world domination.

The bill currently proposed in Oregon carves out plenty of exceptions. Food trucks, airport kiosks, insurance companies, and all-night gas stations have asked for exemptions, to avoid becoming criminal targets. Unfortunately, the bill also currently exempts public agencies, which always opens lawmakers to a special sort of criticism.

Exemptions may expand and then contract to gain necessary votes. Public comments will alert lawmakers to unintended consequences. The bill will undergo many changes before it ever becomes the law.

But the purpose of a bill is easiest to see at its inception — before it has been “improved” to satisfy constituents in every corner. Allowing people to pay for their goods and services with the money in their pocket certainly has merit on its face. If payment policies are being used to exclude certain customers, that’s something that deserves to be stopped sooner than later.

I just wish the government hadn’t excused itself from this new attempt to exercise and enforce inclusion for all its citizens. I think there’s an important message being sent when a resident arrives at the payment window with nothing but a wad of $20 bills to pay their property taxes. (Forcing a vendor to accept more than $100 in coins is expressly forbidden.)

For that matter, legislators could demonstrate the courage of their convictions by including themselves in this enlightened inclusionary policy. They should explicitly allow lobbyists to make political contributions in cash. That would address another sort of discrimination that’s hurting our society.

If lawmakers then decided they needed secure teller windows in their Salem offices, wouldn’t that be important for every citizen to recognize? I think so.

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Don Kahle (fridays@dksez.com) writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at www.dksez.com.

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