California Right-to-Repair bill quietly killed in committee

Despite public support for more repairable gear, tech lobbying may have kept that from happening

A California Right to Repair bill, SB 983, died in committee last week, despite broad consumer support for fixable products.

It's not clear who killed the bill, but Right to Repair advocates point to the usual suspects – the tech companies that benefit by controlling who can repair their goods and that have lobbied against Right to Repair bills all over the US.

"It happened in the most shadowy, unaccountable part of the process, so it's hard to know exactly what happened," said Nathan Proctor, US Public Interest Research Groups (PIRG) senior Right to Repair campaign director, in a message to The Register.

Proctor said it could be that special interests got to political leaders but also allowed that those nixing the bill just didn't consider it to be a priority at the moment.

SB 983 was introduced in February by California State Senator Susan Talamantes Eggman (D). Among other provisions, it required product manufacturers to offer, on fair and reasonable terms, documentation, tools, software, and parts necessary to diagnose, maintain, and repair products. These would have to be provided both to product owners and to repair shops.

The Right to Repair is quite popular among folks, according to CALPIRG. It's supported by 77 percent of Democrats, 61 percent of Republicans, and 82 percent of Independents, and is opposed by only five percent of 212 respondents surveyed.

Since the first such bill was introduced in 2014, 34 states have begun developing Right to Repair legislation, according to The Repair Association. And the FTC in a report last year said it supports expanding consumers' repair options, as does the White House.

Some progress appears to have been made recently. Apple, a longtime foe of repairability, has made much of its self-repair program. However, recent reviews argue the initiative is designed to make it look like Apple supports the Right to Repair while discouraging repairs by making the process somewhat onerous.

Senator Eggman's bill made it out of committee in April with an 8-1-2 vote. The legislation is backed by repair shops, consumer groups, and environmental orgs opposed to difficult-to-repair products and the waste that follows from current practices.

Yet five Democrats and two Republicans on the California Senate Appropriations committee all voted to suspend the bill.

"I'm incredibly disappointed that SB 983 was held in committee. After thorough review, the FTC found 'scant evidence' to support manufacturer claims about the potential harms of the Right to Repair movement, but that didn’t stop their trade organizations from making the same tired arguments in committee," California Senator Eggman told The Register.

"The organizing around my bill and other efforts across the country have made it clear that these arguments don’t hold up with the consumers who are saddled with high cost repairs and premature replacements."

"We don't know who stopped it," said Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of The Repair Association, in a phone interview with The Register, noting that a similar medical Right to Repair bill suffered a similar fate last year. "It's the same list of suspects."

Gordon-Byrne speculates that California lawmakers are worried about the cost of implementing the bill, in the form of lawsuits from product makers. "I think that people have been threatened with litigation," she said. "There's a lot more fear about enforcement and litigation than about the meat of the bill."

The appropriations committee, she suggested, is worried the state would have to set aside substantial funds to enforce the Right to Repair and to defend against litigation brought by firms challenging the rules.

Throughout the process we had significant opposition from the tech industry

Sander Kushen, state advocate for CALPIRG, blamed tech sector lobbying. "Throughout the process we had significant opposition from the tech industry," said Kushen.

"This included TechNet, and the industry association that represents Apple, among others. Even though nearly all of the tech industry’s talking points against Right to Repair were refuted in last year’s 'Nixing the Fix' report from the FTC, they were still able to kill the bill through a massive lobbying effort."

"This was definitely disappointing, especially considering the well-documented bipartisan support for Right to Repair reforms among the public," Kushen continued. "This was the furthest a consumer electronics Right to Repair bill has made it in the legislative process in CA, so I’m hopeful that our momentum, that public support, and our great coalition of environmental and repair shop allies will lead us to victory soon!"

TechNet did not immediately respond to a request for comment. ®

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