BISMARCK — A bipartisan group of lawmakers has rallied behind a bill that would bar businesses in North Dakota from refusing cash payments.

House Bill 1299 would require businesses to take cash or face fines of $250 for a first offense and $500 for any repeat offenses. The legislation does not apply to online-only businesses and makes an exception to allow businesses to turn down large bills. The proposal also prohibits businesses from charging a higher price for an item bought with cash.

The bill's sponsor, Rep. Ben Koppelman, said his proposal aims to ensure that all residents have equal access to the state's economy. The West Fargo Republican notes that some North Dakotans, especially those with lower incomes and the elderly, don't use credit cards or bank accounts. If more businesses in the state move toward a cashless model, Koppelman said he worries they could be left without the means to pay for necessary goods and services.

State Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo
State Rep. Ben Koppelman, R-West Fargo

An estimated 4.9% of North Dakotans, including a disproportionate number of people of color, did not have a bank account in 2019, according to a survey by the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation.

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Koppelman said he is strongly pro-business, but his bill doesn't cause much hardship to retail establishments in the state.

One of the faces of North Dakota's business community disagrees. Arik Spencer, president and CEO of the Greater North Dakota Chamber, said the bill would hinder businesses from electing their own practices.

"We oppose 1299 as this bill would limit a business’s ability to make decisions in the best interest of their operations," Spencer said in a statement. "Businesses should be able to make these choices just as consumers can make choices on where they spend their dollars and what businesses they support."

U.S. Sen. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., backed a bill similar to Koppelman's proposal at the national level last year, saying the legislation "protects people’s right to choose their preferred currency and ensures the money we print remains usable as legal tender for all debts, just as it says." The Cramer-backed bill was referred to a committee in July, but no movement has been made on it.

Some states and cities have already banned cashless businesses, including New Jersey, Massachusetts, San Francisco and Philadelphia.

The North Dakota House's Industry, Business and Labor Committee will hold a hearing on Koppelman's bill at 8 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19.

1299 by Jeremy Turley on Scribd