Right to Repair bills still being debated in Michigan House

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Ethan Bleau

Lansing State Capitol Building

Two bills were introduced to the Michigan House as of June 6, 2023. One targets the right to repair of agricultural equipment, the other is for electronic devices.

The overall goal of both bills is to make it easier and cheaper for people to fix purchased items.

In nearby Illinois, John Deere & Co. are facing antitrust civil litigations similar to the issues addressed in Michigan bills (HB 4673 and HB 4562) for their restrictive repair market. 

House Bill 4673, which is currently the furthest along in the legislative process of the two bills, is intended to make it easier for farmers and their independent mechanics to get access to parts, documentation and important software needed to restore the expensive machines back to full functionality. 

House Representative Reggie Miller introduced HB 4673 in May of last year. 

“We sat down with some farmers in our district. And we said, ‘what are some of the bigger issues that you would like to see us work on?’” said Jackson Pahle, Rep. Miller’s legislative director. “And one of the issues that we heard was right to repair, and we know that the Attorney General has been really supportive of all of these consumer protection bills and programs. So we were like yeah, well now’s the time so we started working on it.” 

Some business perspectives have reservations about the bill. Pahle said, “Some of the groups involved want to stay away from a legislative solution if possible. They want to work that out in the marketplace, but we’re hearing from farmers that that’s still not really happening. So we wanted to kinda to get on it.”

The original version of the bill had a section stating that trade secrets are protected from the act unless necessary for a repair. The issue of trade secrets and company patents are often the justification by large corporations like Deere & Co. and Apple as to why they advocate against right to repair legislation. In Michigan’s case, this exception was later removed after the Committee on Agriculture reviewed the initial bill. 

“We have been working with some of the stakeholders and that was some of the language that we felt—there was some pushback there—they were really worried that we would make them divulge trade secrets so we kinda dropped that language and this way it is more just reasonable standard repair language and things like that,” Pahle said.

A section of the bill prohibits tampering with settings, and certain systems of the equipment. This portion of legislation could potentially limit access to repair. 

“To me it seems sort of self-evident that [the bill is] talking about the endpoint of the repair. So if you have to deactivate something in order to fix it, but then you reactivate it under the same specifications. I don’t think that is a violation,” said Timothy Innes, law librarian at Michigan State University.

There is a lot of complexity to the right to repair issue between the design of goods and the users who rely on dependable, serviceable products. The next steps for both bills involve continuing debate and revisions in their respective committees among legislators  before being put to a vote on the house floors and incorporated into Michigan law.

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