Statehouse employees in Minnesota say that lobbying efforts by big tech companies and John Deere are on the verge of killing right to repair legislation in the state that would have made it easier for consumers and small businesses to fix their electronics.
According to two of the bill's sponsors, the bill, which would have introduced "fair repair" requirements for manufacturers in the state, will not get a hearing that's necessary to move the legislation forward. Minnesota Senate rules automatically kills any bills that do not have a hearing scheduled by a certain date (this year, it's March 10). Last year, tech industry lobbying killed a similar bill in New York.
"Unfortunately, it's not going to make deadline this session," Republican Sen. David Osmek, one of the sponsors, told me in an email. Osmek would not give additional specifics about his colleagues' concerns with the bill, but a legislative assistant for the bill's other sponsor told me that electronic manufacturer lobbying is likely to blame, while another source close to the legislature told me that tractor manufacturer John Deere—a long time enemy of fair repair—helped kill the bill as well.
"Even if you don't live in one of those states, the legislation is important because it would create a mechanism for consumers to get replacement parts for their electronics in the United States"
"The assumption on our end is that if it doesn't move forward, if nothing happens, a large part would be because of the opposition from large tech companies," Elspeth Cavert, legislative assistant to Democratic Sen. John Marty, told me. "As the minority party, Democrats have less insight about what's going on, but the assumption is it's tech opposition." Osmek confirmed that lobbying was to blame but would not confirm which industries or sectors were responsible.
The legislation would require manufacturers to make repair parts and tools available to the general public and independent repair companies and would prevent manufacturers from using artificial software locks to prevent you from fixing your own devices. The legislation has been particularly popular in rural areas, where people often live far from the "authorized service" centers where you could, for instance, get your iPhone screen fixed. The legislation has also been seen as a way to protect small business jobs while preventing the monopolization of the repair industry by megacorporations such as Apple and John Deere.
Minnesota is one of eight states where right to repair legislation has been introduced this year (Nebraska, New York, Massachusetts, Illinois, Tennessee, Wyoming, and Kansas are the others). Even if you don't live in one of those states, the legislation is important because it would create a mechanism for consumers to get replacement parts for their electronics in the United States and would also open a pathway to a broader national agreement that could ensure fair repair for the entire nation. The state-level lobbying also provides rare insight into how some of the country's largest corporations play politics.
For Minnesotans, however, the impact would be more immediate.
"It's about increasing manufacturing jobs in Minnesota by creating a remanufacturing economy for products that can be reused," Cavert said. "Sen. Marty thinks it's a win-win for a lot of different stakeholders because we'd also be able to reduce waste from products that would otherwise get thrown out."
Cavert said there is still a slim possibility that the legislation can be saved this year.
Lobbying in Minnesota has been less public than in some of the other states considering right to repair legislation. In Nebraska, for instance, Apple has met with lawmakers and told them that passing the law would turn the state into a "Mecca for bad actors" and hackers. Companies like Apple and IBM often hide behind trade groups such as CompTIA that meet privately with lawmakers to kill legislation that they don't like.
"Their money is being sucked out of their wallets and stimulating Asian factory jobs instead of circulating locally and creating good jobs for Minnesotans."
Trade organizations representing nearly every major electronics manufacturer have sent letters to Nebraska lawmakers claiming that right to repair laws threaten consumer safety and raise cybersecurity concerns, but no manufacturer has ever provided any evidence to back up these claims.
Gay Gordon-Byrne, executive director of Repair.org, a group of independent repair companies supporting right to repair legislation, told me that the state's lawmakers have sold out the interests of their constituents in favor of companies that have shipped jobs overseas.
"I am astonished that Minnesota Senators are unwilling to even talk about Fair Repair, which has been on the table in Minnesota for three years and was already partially approved by the Environment Committee last year," she said. "All Minnesota consumers are still being stung by unfair and deceptive trade practices. Their money is being sucked out of their wallets and stimulating Asian factory jobs instead of circulating locally and creating good jobs for Minnesotans."