King County council votes on requiring businesses to accept cash

King County Council voted Tuesday on an ordinance that requires businesses to accept cash. After months of contentious debate and delay, the council adopted the ordinance. The vote was close: 5-4.

The proposal, sponsored by councilmember Jeanne Kohl-Welles, has the power to impact over 300,000 individuals living and working in unincorporated King County. For Kohl-Welles, this is about protecting the rights of the unbanked.

“For folks who need every dollar to go toward food and essentials rather than fees, cashless business practices act as a barrier to them accessing those basic needs,” said Kohl-Welles.

Amber Reese owns and operates Zeek’s Pizza in White Center. Weeks prior to the vote, Reese penned a letter to King County Council begging officials to change course. The single mom argued cash can attract criminal activity.

“If I put cash in my store, we become a target for violence,” said Reese. “My son does not need to see his mother get assaulted or killed because someone who is unbanked has the right to a slice of pizza.”

Reese believes “essential businesses” such as grocery stores should be treated differently than her pizza place.

King County Council has tweaked the original proposal adding a number of amendments. One new amendment removed consumer services like hairdressers and insurance agents from the requirement. Another new amendment allows retailers to apply for an exemption based on a history of theft and distance to banking services.

Councilmember Rod Dembowski believes the legislation is trendsetting and has the potential to move the needle.

“This is not a set of rules for just those living in unincorporated King County, it’s for those who patronize the businesses,” said Dembrowski. “I’m convinced it’s the right thing to do because of the folks who struggle participating in our established banking economy.”

Hunter Simpson, a barista at a nearby coffee shop relies on cash tips as part of her income. She supports businesses accepting cash, but is not convinced government intervention is the solution.

“It’s a complicated question because I believe everybody should be able to run their business how they want to,” said Simpson.

The new rule goes into effect on July 1, 2025.