Another Opinion, Editorial

Right-to-repair is a Pro-common-sense Bill

by Rep. Anne Donahue (R), Northfield and Rep. Katherine Sims (D), Craftsbury

MONTPELIER – Vermont has the opportunity to do the right thing for our farmers and loggers and to do it the Vermont way.

Last year the Vermont House passed a pro-farmer, pro-logger, pro-market, pro-commonsense piece of legislation with a wide 137-2 margin, with yes votes coming from Republicans, Democrats, Progressives, Independents and even the House’s sole Libertarian. That bill is H.81, more commonly referred to as the agricultural and forestry equipment right-to-repair bill. We were proud to sponsor that bill.

If you’re unfamiliar with right-to-repair, it’s straightforward: these laws would require manufacturers of products to ensure that consumers have access, on fair and reasonable terms, to the parts, tools and information necessary to repair the products that we consumers own. In other words: making sure we can fix our stuff.

This may seem like a self-evident idea that doesn’t require legislation to make happen and, truth be told, for many years, it didn’t. It used to be the case that parts, tools and manuals were widely available for consumer products and handy individuals could fix their things or take them to a local, independent repair shop to have another handy person fix them. But over time, manufacturers realized that if they withheld access to certain key parts of the repair process, they could essentially force consumers to rely solely on the manufacturer or their authorized repair shops for these fixes.

If this sounds like an anti-competitive repair monopoly, that’s because it is, and is one reason why right-to-repair is a necessary, pro-market reform.

The right-to-repair bill that the House advanced last session deals specifically with agricultural and forestry equipment. This is because the lack of a right-to-repair presents particular challenges for our farmers and loggers.

Imagine you’re a farmer and you’re in the middle of a short window for planting or harvesting a crop and a key piece of equipment goes down. Maybe you’re able to get the part to fix that equipment and maybe you or someone on your farm has the ability and know-how to make that fix.

But you can’t make the equipment run without access to a specific, manufacturer-controlled computer that tells the equipment the fix has been made. You can’t buy this computer, so now you need to get a manufacturer-authorized repair technician to come to your farm to do this for you.

This can sometimes take weeks: valuable downtime that you can’t afford. And if your equipment is beyond warranty, you’ll likely need to pay the authorized repair technician hundreds of dollars for this.

All of this extra time and money could be avoided, if you only had access to that computer to make the fix quickly yourself.

This is, unfortunately, the very real situation that many farmers face and one reason why we need to pass H.81.

And this isn’t a novel idea. Right-to-repair legislation is gaining steam across the nation. Minnesota, New York, California and Colorado have enacted right-to-repair laws within the past two years, with Colorado enacting an agricultural repair law very similar to what we’re trying to pass in Vermont. Notably, all of those bills passed with bipartisan support. Ensuring the right-to-repair agricultural and forestry equipment is just the start in Vermont. We hope to later enact legislation that extends the right-to-repair to other consumer products, including personal electronics and powered wheelchairs.

In Vermont, the bill that passed the House was the result of thorough consideration by the House Agriculture Committee and the House Commerce Committee. The final language that passed reflects collaboration and compromise between legislators representing a wide range of ideological perspectives and advocates representing the pro-repair movement, as well as those representing equipment manufacturers and dealers. This doesn’t mean the bill has the universal support of all stakeholders. The large equipment manufacturers still oppose this bill, and their authorized dealers have their reservations. That’s not surprising. This bill would change the repair status quo.

But legislators worked hard to respond to the concerns of those stakeholders: ensuring the bill we passed extends our farmers and forestry professionals the right-to-repair, while making sure our local dealers can continue to serve the community and maintain their business model. For instance, language was changed in the bill to clarify that manufacturers and dealers do not have to make parts available for free, or even at wholesale cost. That is, dealers can still sell parts at retail prices and make a profit, but all the parts, tools, and information needed to fix the equipment must be available.

To that end, even Eric Wareham, the representative for the North American Equipment Dealers Association, (which opposes right-to-repair legislation) told the trade publication Farm Equipment, “If you’re intent on doing [right-to-repair], let’s look at Vermont as a better possibility, a better starting point.”

Vermont has the opportunity to do the right thing for our farmers and loggers and to do it the Vermont way. We look forward to working with our Senate colleagues on H.81 this session to pass this pro-farmer, pro-logger, pro-market, pro-commonsense bill.

(Rep. Donahue represents Berlin and Northfield and can be reached at [email protected]. Rep. Sims represents Albany, Craftsbury, Glover, Greensboro and can be reached at [email protected].)

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