Consumers constantly need safeguards in Florida.
The deck is stacked against them. The political culture in Tallahassee vigilantly looks out for the corporate moneyed interests that bankroll candidates. That means consumer protections are often a joke, which in turn makes the state an easy target for scams and rip-offs.
At the same time, changing technology leaves too many people behind, especially those without money or political power.
The growing trend of cashless stores puts many poor people at risk in the U.S. as more retailers accept payment only in credit or debit cards, smartphones or other technology. Cash is no longer king. Many people have stopped carrying it. Keeping track of it and making bank deposits is inconvenient for businesses.
But for many, especially the poor, cash is their only form of currency, and thankfully, they still have some champions in the Legislature.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park, and Rep. Matt Willhite, D-Wellington, have filed bills in the upcoming legislative session to require businesses in fixed locations, including food trucks, to accept cash. The bills (SB 408, HB 233) would prohibit charging fees as a condition of taking cash or face a $2,500 fine.
“This is common sense,” Jones told the Sun Sentinel editorial board. “Everyone does not have a credit card.”
Some seniors don’t have credit cards because they worry about identity theft or fraud, Willhite said. Teenagers don’t have them and tourists like to spend U.S. greenbacks. Refusing cash “sends the wrong message,” he said.
Several states have passed laws preventing cashless stores, including Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Colorado, and the cities of New York, Philadelphia, Washington, D.C. and Berkeley, Calif. Contrary to perception, Willhite’s office notes, no federal law requires private businesses to accept cash as legal tender.
Requiring businesses to take cash might not seem controversial. But this is Florida, where a strong business lobby often has enough political muscle, and campaign money, to block any consumer protections. So passage of a law requiring cash be accepted as currency is far from assured in the state Capitol.
A second consumer issue that demands state attention is the growing practice of unsolicited and unwanted text messaging by people in search of home sellers, as housing prices have skyrocketed in a seller’s market.
People are getting increasingly frustrated and have no recourse — even if they are on the state’s Do Not Call registry.
That’s because state laws regulate direct sales of products and services, and these bothersome texts are neither. Asking someone if they want to sell something “is different,” said Alan Parkinson, chief of mediation and enforcement in the state Division of Consumer Services. Caller IDs don’t help because the software that sends the messages can evade it.
One reason it’s easy to target people this way is because home ownership information is readily accessible on public websites, such as county property appraisers. But the solution here is not to restrict access to that information, which serves many legitimate public purposes.
Rather, the state should tighten laws that limit unwanted solicitation of text messages. That regulation is under the control of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, headed by Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democratic candidate for governor.
Consumers harassed by unsolicited text messages should file complaints at FloridaConsumerHelp.com or by calling 800-HELP-FLA or 800-FL-AYUDA in Spanish. Fried would do Floridians a favor by finding a practical solution to this problem, which will only get worse until or unless housing prices stabilize.