Right to repair action has picked up speed since a class action lawsuit over the matter was filed against John Deere in January 2022. Since then, many moves have been made on both sides of the issue, with one of the more notable being that John Deere signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) around right to repair with the Farm Bureau in January 2023. CNH Industrial followed suit with its own MOU on March 9 and Kubota has confirmed it will be exploring its own MOU with the Farm Bureau.

Perhaps the most serious arena on the matter is the legislative one, where many states are at varying stages of considering right to repair legislature and rulings. For example, Colorado’s governor recently signed America’s first right-to-repair bill focused exclusive on ag equipment. 

As the right to repair arena continues to heat up, here are 4 things to know throughout 2023.

1. Colorado’s right to repair bill is complex.

Colorado’s recently passed Consumer Right to Repair Agricultural Equipment Act will “require manufacturers to sell tools, parts and digital access to farmers and independent repair shops to diagnose and fix problems with equipment, beginning in 2024,” according to a report from Colorado Politics.

One of the most important parts of the Act addresses user access to embedded manufacturer code. There are portions of the bill that forbid modification that would violate the Clean Air Act or state and federal laws, but Eric Wareham, vice president of government affairs for the North American Equipment Dealers Assn. isn’t confident it would be of much comfort to dealers. He refers to the bill as a “Frankenstein bill,” having gone through so many modifications and amendments that its ramifications become difficult to predict.

“[There are] provisions in the bill that allow access to embedded code, embedded software to disable security locks or security-related functions in the course of maintenance and repair,” he said. “That’s unfettered access. There’s some guarantees in the bill that you can’t use that access to make modifications that would be illegal under the Clean Air Act or other federal laws or state statutes. However, that’s little comfort for dealers who are concerned and facing modifications of equipment daily.”

2. There are different types of right to repair bills

According to a recent webinar from the North American Equipment Dealers Assn. (NAEDA) and Farm Equipment, as of Feb. 16, there were over 40 different bills across 19 states that could impact dealers’ operations and some others had even popped up after their presentation was assembled.

One important fact, however, is that not all these bills are focusing on the same arenas.

Broad Based Bills. “Broad-based bills are anything that has a digital electronic device that depends on its operating a digital component, so that’s everything under the sun,” said Wareham. “These consumer electronic bills, those are the ones that list your laptop, your smartphone and tablets. And there is a slight concern that if farm equipment incorporates a computer, would our equipment and products be incorporated because they have that as a component to it? That doesn’t seem to be the case and in some of those states, we do have exemption language, so that’s good.” 

Exemption language refers to a portion of a bill that excludes certain categories of equipment from its application, some of which specify ag equipment.

“Wheelchair” Bills. One way in which right to repair advocates can pass language that impacts the ag equipment industry is by amending previously passed bills on repairing different equipment, specifically wheelchair repair.

“The interesting note there is that in Colorado, last year they passed a bill for Right to Repair for wheelchairs,” said Wareham. “That’s kind of a hard issue for people to fight against and may not want to, but there seems to be a trend with the proponents of Right to Repair that we’ve seen across the country in recent years, getting these wheelchair bills passed and then coming behind it and amending on ag equipment. And that seems to be a strategy and a tactic. And so we’re monitoring those just to recognize that that’s what they’re pivoting to because they can’t get pass right to repair bill by itself.”

Cleanup Bills. The cleanup bills involve right to repair bills that had passed previously but are now being “cleaned up” with amendments. For example, the Motor Vehicle bill in Massachusetts, which Wareham describes as where “the genesis of the right to repair moment came from,” recently revisited their 2012 right to repair bill that targeted motor vehicles through a ballot measure. 

3. Some bills are more concerning than others.

Several bills currently being pushed in the U.S. are specific to agriculture, though Kipp McGuire, director of Government Affairs for NAEDA, says not all of them are particularly concerning.

“There’s a couple that we’re honestly not overly concerned about right now,” he said. “We’ve got one in Texas, which is HB515. It sounds like it’s not too much of a worry at this point in time. Then we’ve got a Missouri House Bill 698. This one is kind of a reintroduction, with a lot of the same players that we’ve seen in the past, but I don’t think that it’s a huge worry at this point in time. There’s Montana House Bill 475, which by the sounds of it, probably isn’t going any place either.” 

Looking at more concerning bills, he says the association will also be active in monitoring Minnesota Bill 1337 and West Virginia House Bill 3384.

4. There is hope for the industry

Despite the constant battle, McGuire and Wareham want dealers to know one thing: there’s still hope out there.

“This year, certainly you can tell that there’s a lot of ag-specific bills and you start seeing that bifurcation of breaking it up into household consumer electronics, agriculture, wheelchairs,” says Wareham. “It’s targeting different industries, because I think the proponents realize that if you have it broad-based, there’s just that many more people allied against it. We’re also seeing the same bill sponsors repeatedly, over and over and over, who despite failing several years in a row, continue to reintroduce this. 

“And I think that every year we do this, more and more legislators around the capitols start to say, ‘That’s just a bad bill. You’ve tried it, you’ve had your hearings, everyone has had their voice heard, it’s just a bad idea.’ It’s not something that continues to gain traction every year. In some places that’s the case, but it seems that we have a good track record of stopping this and hopefully that continues.”

For a timeline on the right-to-repair movement’s impact on the ag equipment industry, check out Farm Equipment’s ongoing coverage of the topic by clicking here.

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