As Right to Repair Effort Falters, Massachusetts moves to study Impact

After failing to move a bill to enshrine a right to repair consumer electronics to a vote, the state lawmakers in Massachusetts are pushing to study the economic impact of right to repair legislation.

A Massachusetts state Senate resolution passed this week calls for the creation of  a commission to research and make recommendations to the legislature on the feasibility of proposed right to repair laws that would require manufacturers of digital electronic products to make parts and tools and diagnostic and repair information available too independent repair facilities or owners of the products. (PDF)

“In general I think its a very positive step,” said Gay Gordon Byrne the Executive Director of the Repair Association, a group backing right to repair laws. The commission, if formed, could be a useful resource for legislators unfamiliar with the contours of the right to repair debate. “A lot of the legislators would not have had the time to study right to repair individually,” she said.

17 states have introduced right to repair laws that will give consumers and independent repair shops access to information needed to service popular electronics like Apple’s iPhone.

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As proposed the 23 member commission would represent a broad spectrum of interests on both sides of the repair debate.  Headed by the State’s Director of the Office of Consumer Affairs & Business Regulation, it would include members of the House and Senate joint committee that has been studying proposed right to repair laws and representatives from groups advocating for both industry and consumers, including the Mass Tech Collaborative, a representative of MASSPIRG, representatives from the medical device industry, a cyber security expert and even a farmer.

Massachusetts is the only state in the nation to have legislated a right to repair for automobiles in 2012. That law required automakers to provide the same diagnostic tools, codes and repair guides to vehicle owners and independent repair shops as they provide to their dealers and authorized repair shops. The 2012 Massachusetts law, in turn, prompted auto manufacturers to agree to extend that right to repair to independent repair shops and vehicle owners nationally.

Efforts by Massachusetts and other states to extend a similar right to repair to a wide range of other electronic devices such as smart phones and home electronics has met with stiff resistance from industry. Of 18 state legislatures that put forward right to repair laws in the 2018 legislative session, not one saw the law passed.

[Read more Security Ledger coverage of right to repair.]

In Massachusetts, a joint House-Senate committee in Massachusetts held a number of hearings on proposed right to repair legislation but was ultimately unable to advance the bill out of committee and to the floor, despite what sources say was strong support on the Committee for the bill. Concern among some committee members about the impact of right to repair laws on existing industries is believed to have prompted the joint committee to shelve the legislation for 2018.

Massachusetts State Senator Will Brownsberger said that the creation of a Commission may be a good way to move what had been a back burner legislative issue to the front burner.

[Read also: Updated: A New Lobbying Group is fighting Right to Repair Laws]

“Sometimes Commissions can be a way to delay an issue, but I think in this case it will move it forward,” he said. “This raises the profile of (right to repair)…The perception is that this is more of a national campaign and that it isn’t a very organized effort here in Massachusetts. (The Commission) may give it more of a local focus.”

The resolution passed in the Senate last week, but still needs to be taken up by the state House of Representatives before the July 31st end of the legislative session. It would then need to be signed by Governor Charlie Baker. There is no indication the House will vote on a version of the resolution before the 31st, but legislators could still adopt it by unanimous consent after the 31st, assuming nobody objects, Brownsberger told The Security Ledger.

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