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R2R debate continues in Maine, could result in 2 voter referendum questions

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A Maine legislative committee voiced confusion Tuesday about the need for two “right to repair” referendum questions on the state’s November ballot and asked several questions of the groups supporting the competing measures.

The Alliance for Automotive Innovation (Auto Innovators) drafted a competing bill to R2R legislation introduced earlier this month because they said it would allow open third-party bidirectional access to telematics-equipped vehicles. The alliance is essentially going head-to-head with the Maine Right to Repair Coalition on the issue because the alliance says independent repairers and vehicle owners already have access to data to repair vehicles while the coalition says the opposite.

The coalition filed an application for a citizens initiative and a draft of proposed legislation with the Secretary of State’s Office in August. Secretary of State Shenna Bellows approved the petition in October. More than 80,000 auto repair and parts store operators signed the petition.

In February, Bellows approved the coalition’s petition for the creation of a “standardized access platform” for data generated, collected, and transmitted by vehicles to be a referendum on November’s ballot. Some of the language used in Maine’s current version, LD 1677, comes from a Massachusetts data access bill that is held up in court.

Auto Innovators State Affairs Vice President Wayne Weikel reiterated to the Innovation, Development, Economic Advancement and Business Committee on Tuesday that the alliance agrees with 75% of LD 1677 but felt it necessary to put forth LD 1911, posed as a referendum question if approved by Bellows, to prevent open access to data.

“[U]nlike the cybersecurity and privacy concerns raised by the proponents’ language, this language focuses on what is needed to ensure the future repairability of vehicles, not just today, but in the future,” Weikel said. “LD 1911 would codify in law all of the relevant provisions of a national right to repair automotive MOU that already exists.

“No longer just a handshake deal between private entities, this would now be in law and it would remove any doubt whether repairers would have the access to information needed to repair a vehicle. …This closes any loophole around missing telematic data for repairs.”

Rep. Bruce White (D-District 65), LD 1911 sponsor, told the committee he wants the right for Maine vehicle owners to repair their vehicles put into law.

“That’s what this bill does. It ensures that independent repair shops have the same access to diagnostics as mechanics. That means new car dealers. It also ensures vehicle owners have the freedom to choose where to have their vehicles repaired.”

He added that the coalition’s bill would allow parts manufacturers and others access to vehicle screens to display ads while the vehicles are in motion. His bill is a less dangerous and better solution, White said. In addition, Weikel claims $1.65 million was collected as of April by the coalition to support its R2R effort but none of that funding came from Maine. The funding came from “out-of-state big box auto parts retailers that want access to telematics data beyond what is necessary to complete a repair,” Weikel said.

The committee cautioned those at the public hearing that they’ve asked the courts if they can have competing measures on the ballot and haven’t heard back yet.

Committee Co-Chair Tiffany Roberts (D-District 149) asked Weikel if he thinks the average voter, having little to no information about the R2R issue, would be informed enough by the ballot questions to make an educated vote. He said the obligation to differentiate would be on Bellows but that the setup would likely be one three-part question with the option to vote “neither.”

Maine Right to Repair Coalition Executive Director Tommy Hickey said it would be confusing to have “two so-called right to repair” questions on the ballot.

“In order to have a level competitive repair market, you have to have up-to-date technology, which is what our ballot initiative includes that this bill does not,” Hickey said. “We had over 80,000 people — Maine folks, Maine residents — sign on to our ballot initiative to include wireless technologies to allow independent repairs and car owners to have direct access to this diagnostic repair information. We’d like to have that ballot initiative run its course in terms of competing measures.”

In support of LD 1911, Bruce Gary, with the Maine Automobile Dealers Association, said it would be appropriate for voters to have a choice — both sides of the issue — in front of them on the ballot, as long as the court gives the go-ahead. And in answer to arguments that telematics access should be free or at a low cost, Gary said the cost should be “well within reach of anyone who legitimately repairs cars.”

When Roberts posed the same question to Gary about whether voters would be able to cast an informed vote, he said he’s seen in court from juries that the general public is able to quickly discern information given to them to make an informed decision.

A Maine auto repair shop owner said he’s against Auto Innovators’ bill and in favor of the coalition’s because if independent repairers had access to wireless telematics data, one technician could drive the vehicle and then view data from the drive to diagnose issues and make repairs. Without access, two technicians have to work on one job — one driving the car and the other monitoring a scan tool. Also, he said that right now vehicles send consumers notifications telling them to go to dealerships for oil changes and other maintenance, which gives dealers an unfair competitive advantage.

Dan Brooks, co-owner of Brooks Boys Capital Car Care, spoke against LD 1911 because telematics data is necessary now, and will become even more necessary, because of the number of computers in vehicles that have to be programmed.

“We’re just looking to stay on that same platform,” he said. “I’m not an automotive engineer. I don’t know how to build them and design them. Possibly they could design it so that certain parts of the car is accessible and certain parts of the car isn’t. …Make it so I can’t get that information but being able to read those modules and computers is absolutely critical for the automotive repair facilities.”

The committee didn’t make any recommendations on either bill.


Featured image credit: max-kegfire/iStock

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