After graduating from Southwest Paralegal College—a for-profit Lafayette-based school which has since vanished into the aether; suspiciously, even the Wayback Machine1 has no information on this august seat of higher education (its robots.txt blocked crawling)—Rickey Hardy, turned to washing houses.2 He was promoted from that position by voters in 2007 to represent, as a Democrat, Louisiana’s District 44.
And when there, surely operating under the purest of motivates, Representative Hardy turned his legal mind to the question of cash transactions, “relative to the purchase of junk or used or secondhand property.”
He was agin them.
Not against the transactions themselves, you understand, but staunchly opposed to using cash for them. Why? Well, it appears that Representative Hardy has discovered—imagine his surprise—-that some criminals use cash to exchange used goods.
This being true, and relying on the street-legal doctrine of guilt by association, everybody who uses cash is therefore suspected of larcenous behavior. Solution: ban cash and banish crime!
Let’s look at House bill 195 more closely. A “Secondhand dealer ” is defined as any person
engaged in business of buying, selling, or trading in or otherwise acquiring or disposing of junk or used or secondhand property, including but not limited to jewelry, silverware…aluminum other than in the form of cans…furniture, pictures, objects of art, clothing…
It helps to be clear: “For the purposes of this [law], ‘junk’ shall include any property or material commonly known as ‘junk.'”
Further, any person or business that sells junk, which includes but is not limited to those items aforementioned, “shall either keep a register and file reports or electronically maintain data and be capable or readily providing reports.”
The reports must contain the name and address of both the buyer and the seller, a full written description of the item bought or sold, signed statements about the transaction, “The motor vehicle license number of the vehicle or conveyance on which such material is delivered”, and a few other items. These records must be kept for three years.
Lest you thought your author was joking when he mentioned the extra-legal doctrine of guilt by association, the lack of records by a merchant “shall be prima facie evidence that the person receiving such material…received it knowing it to be stolen.” Guilty!
Penalty? A fine “not less than one thousand dollars or imprisoned for not less than thirty days nor more than six months, or both.” Serious business, as you can see.
I know what you’re thinking: the law doesn’t overreach badly because pawn- and hock-shop dealers are notorious for dealing in stolen property. Maybe so, but this law excludes such businesses from its gaze, arguing that they are covered by other laws.
This law instead covers people like Danny Guidry, who owns the Pioneer Trading Post in Lafayette. Guidry says, “We don’t want this cash transaction to be taken away from us. It’s an everyday transaction.” He also laments “We’re gonna lose a lot of business.”
Why? Enter the inescapable Law of Unintended Consequences (evidently a subject not covered at Hardy’s alma mater). Eliminate cash from used book dealers, tchotchke hawkers, Salvation Army and other thrift outlets, garage sales, library sales, antique stores, flea and perhaps farmers’ markets, and such forth, and you force the cost of business to rise dramatically.
Any debit or credit card tacks on 3 to 6% (thanks, American express! Hardy calls these, “an electronic”: video). Not everybody has one of those creatures, either, a fact which escaped the tenacious Rep. Hardy. Sidle up to the Goodwill to buy a fifty cent paperback and, lest you risk at least six months in jail, use a credit card to pay, and Goodwill actually loses money on the transaction (the card companies have minimums). Too, if people are forced to use cash for minor purchases, many just won’t make them.
And how are people like Guidry supposed to record the name and number—plus license plate!—of every customer who comes to his store? The ordinary mind boggles.
The minds of the 34 State Senators who voted “Yes” on the bill did not boggle. Four Senators (all Democrats), doubtless taking Barack Obama’s lead, voted “Present”. Only one man said no: Neil Riser, a Republican. To prove that thoughtlessness has no ideology, several other Republicans voted yes. And even a handful of Democrats in the House said nay. And the Governor, a Republican, signed it.
Let’s not make too much of this silliness, because the odds of this law standing without substantial modification are slim. But that it was passed at all should cause us grave concern. It is unilateral, unthinking, pompous, overly paternal actions like this that motivate the Tea Party. There are too many laws, too much oversight by government—it is intruding in places where it has no business.
1There are a hundred sites where the school is listed, but none that I could discover had any information about the place except its one-time address. Perhaps some reader can do better than I.
2A job which I in no way disparage. I do wonder how many of his customers paid cash.