Legislature edges toward passage of ‘right to repair’ bill

Lawmakers are considering a proposal that has wide backing, with little opposition from industry except for Apple

By: - February 12, 2024 6:00 am

Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, is the chief backer of a right to repair bill before the Legislature. (Amanda Loman/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

The Legislature is again considering a bill that would give consumers more options to repair their own electronic devices and appliances.

The Senate Committee on Energy and Environment is holding a second public hearing on Monday to consider Senate Bill 1596, a “right to repair” proposal that aims to widen consumer choice and reduce the expense of repairing electronic devices like smartphones, computers, gaming consoles and other equipment with a computer chip. 

The proposal would require manufacturers to offer the necessary documentation, parts, tools and any device needed to repair electronic equipment available at a “fair cost” and on “reasonable” terms. This would include parts, tools and documentation they already make available to authorized third parties or have in-house. If passed, the bill would allow consumers to fix their gear themselves or go to independent repair shops rather than being forced to go to the manufacturer or an authorized facility, potentially paying more. The bill would also ban the practice of companies disabling devices or voiding warranties for devices fixed without authorized parts.

Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro, who has championed passage of a right to repair bill since 2021, said during a hearing last week that the proposal would save Oregonians money, be good for small business, reduce electronic waste, curb pollution and close the digital divide.

“Do you fundamentally believe that if you own a product, you should have the freedom of choice of where and how it is repaired?” she asked the committee. “That is exactly what this bill is about: freedom of choice for consumers.”

That appeals to Sen. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, who testified in favor of the bill. 

“For me, it is about consumer rights,” Thatcher said. “Every Oregonian should be able to fix their own property and decide how to do it.

Supporters say the bill would be especially good for marginalized communities that are often left on the sidelines in the digital world. A 2021 report by the Federal Trade Commission to Congress, said that consumer products are becoming increasingly harder to fix and maintain and that communities of color are heavily affected. 

“Repairs today often require specialized tools, difficult-to-obtain parts and access to proprietary diagnostic software,” the report said. “Furthermore, the burden of repair restrictions may fall more heavily on communities of color and lower-income communities. Many Black-owned small businesses are in the repair and maintenance industries, and difficulties facing small businesses can disproportionately affect small businesses owned by people of color.”  

Other bills

Vehicle right to repair bills have been introduced without success in Congress in 2022 and 2023, but momentum is building in the states. Massachusetts voters approved a vehicle right to repair measure in 2013, but an updated 2020 version to make information about a vehicle’s monitoring system available is tied up in court. Colorado adopted a right to wheelchair repair law in 2022 and followed up in 2023, giving farmers the right to repair. Minnesota, New York and California have enacted electronic right to repair laws, with California’s going into effect in July.

Sollman drew from California’s bill, and she also talked to advocates, manufacturers and business organizations before crafting the legislation. She said Google and the Technology Association of Oregon, which represents small and international technology companies, support the bill, and that the Oregon Business & Industry, which represents 1,600 businesses, along with Intel, Amazon, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft are neutral. The only large electronics company that opposes it is Apple.

The proposal is backed by 89 small businesses representing every Oregon county, Sollman said, along with small repair and recycling nonprofits, the Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board, Metro and the League of Oregon Cities. 

Charlie Fisher, Oregon director of OSPIRG, a statewide public interest group, said that OSPIRG strongly supports the bill.

“If you purchase a product, you should be able to do what you want with it, and you shouldn’t have to go back to whomever you bought it from in order to make it work,” Fisher said.

Oregon Attorney General Ellen Roseblum also testified in support of the bill. Her office would be in charge of investigating violations and authorized to pursue civil penalties in court.

“It was not so long ago that we didn’t have to affirmatively claim a right to repair things that we bought. We just repaired them,” she said. “But the fact of the matter is that digital devices and other equipment are unendingly more advanced and complex today, and device manufacturers often control access to these electronic parts, making it difficult for independent repair shops to compete and for consumers to make their own repairs.”

Opposition from Apple

The bill would not apply to cars, electric toothbrushes, cell phones manufactured before July 1, 2021 or consumer electronic equipment manufactured before July 15, 2015. It also would not require manufacturers to make a new part or remake a discontinued part, and they would not have to make a part to disable and reset a security lock or another security function. 

A senior security manager at Apple, John Perry, said at the hearing that the company supports the “vast majority” of the bill. But he said it opposes a provision against “parts pairing” that gives Apple control of certain parts.

“Senate Bill 1596 is a step forward in making sure that the people of Oregon, myself included, can get their device repaired easily and cost effectively,” Perry said. “However, it is our belief that the bill’s current language around parts pairing will undermine the security, safety and privacy of Oregonians by forcing device manufacturers to allow the use of parts of unknown origin and consumer devices.”

Parts pairing is a relatively new practice, requiring consumers or independent repair experts to purchase many parts from Apple and then have them validated by the company. Unauthorized parts can trigger warnings, even if the device works fine.

Experts say most major repairs on Apple devices require jumping through these hoops. Lawmakers struggled with the idea, with several questioning Perry, who insisted the practice aims to protect private data and the consumer’s security.

Sollman said she’s worked with the industry on the bill but that Apple has failed to compromise and that she wouldn’t back down on this point.

“I will reiterate that we have to have some form of parts pairing in this bill because removing it is not an option,” Sollman said.

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Lynne Terry
Lynne Terry

Lynne Terry, who has more than 30 years of journalism experience, is Oregon Capital Chronicle's editor-in-chief. She previously was editor of The Lund Report, a highly regarded health news site; reported on health in her 18 years at The Oregonian, was a senior producer at Oregon Public Broadcasting and Paris correspondent for National Public Radio.

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