Right-to-repair law could mean cheaper fixes for products, legislators told
Apr. 18—A bill that would allow consumers to get their electronics and outdoor equipment repaired without relying on manufacturer-approved service vendors drew mixed reactions at a Maine legislative committee hearing Tuesday.
Advocates of the legislation said it would let Mainers have equipment serviced at lower costs. But opponents said the measure would hurt businesses that have trained repair workers and also could expose the public to security or safety hazards.
"What we can't support is the unchecked ability to modify equipment," Timothy Wentz, of the Northeast Equipment Dealers Association, told members of the Legislature's Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee.
The proposed law would require manufacturers to provide access to software used to operate the equipment as well as specialized tools to do repairs.
Wentz warned that consumers might try to modify equipment he sells for agricultural, outdoor power and construction to defeat environmental controls in an effort to improve fuel economy. He also said the alterations could open dealers to lawsuits if someone is injured while operating equipment that has been modified by a consumer.
The "right-to-repair" legislation before the committee focuses solely on electronics, outdoor equipment, farm tools and common consumer items. The bill does not apply to on-road vehicles, which are the focus of a similar but separate measure expected to be up for a referendum vote in November. That proposal would force car and truck makers to allow vehicle owners and independent repair shops access to onboard diagnostics, which are necessary for identifying and repairing problems.
Sen. Mike Tipping, D-Penobscot, the sponsor of the proposal now before the committee, said requiring consumers to get repairs through authorized repair shops only drives up costs.
"Some manufacturers have found they make more money if you make it impossible to repair something" outside of official dealers, he said.
According to Tipping, manufacturers often install software that detects if after-market equipment is used, and then renders the device unusable until certified equipment made and sold by the manufacturer is installed.
"This bill could lower the cost of repairing devices considerably," he said.
Forcing consumers to take products back to authorized dealers for repairs "represents an unfair restraint of trade," said Christopher Taub of the Maine Attorney General's Office.
Only a few other states currently have right-to-repair laws on the books. New York adopted one late last year, but proponents of the Maine measure said that law is weak.
Massachusetts has a right-to-repair law for cars that was adopted by voters in 2020, but it has been in limbo because of a legal challenge from an auto industry group. The state recently announced that it will begin enforcing the measure on June 1 while the court case continues.
The Maine State Chamber of Commerce said the legal challenge in Massachusetts and potential suits in New York should make Maine lawmakers cautious about moving ahead with the measure.
"It would continue to make Maine an outlier compared to the rest of the country," Ben Lucas, a spokesman for the chamber, told the committee.
Colorado passed a limited right-to-repair law earlier this year. Similar measures are under consideration in other states, and Congress has held hearings on a federal proposal but hasn't taken action yet.
A parts dealer said that about 60% of the parts his business sells already goes "over-the-counter" to consumers who make their own repairs.
But allowing consumers to do more of their repairs themselves would threaten dealers' business, Kipp McGuire of the North American Equipment Association told the committee. He also said it could conflict with federal environmental laws and undermine quality control standards for used equipment because dealers would be uncertain if the parts had been installed and used correctly.
Michael McKenna, of United Agriculture and Turf, which runs dozens of John Deere dealerships nationwide including six in Maine, said allowing customers to do more of their own repairs could upset the balance between do-it-yourself parts sales and in-house repairs.
"Do-it-yourself repairs in our industry is massive," he said. McKenna added that only about 2% of parts for the equipment his dealerships sell is off-limits for consumer installation because of federal regulations.