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Nearly $2 Million Spent in Fight Over Auto Repair Law

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

 

Groups on both sides of the so-called "right to repair" ballot question have spent a combined $1.98 million as the debate over the auto repair law continues in the final weeks before Election Day, even after the state legislature passed a compromise bill this summer.

According to reports filed with the Commonwealth's Office of Campaign and Political Finance, the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee has spent $1,786,805 over the past two years in its efforts to see Question 1 pass on the Bay State ballot this November. The Automotive Aftermarket Industry Association (AAIA) has been a big supporter, contributing a total of $907,500 to the committee in 2011 and 2012.

Their opponent, the Citizens Committee for Safe and Fair Repair, has spent $195,288 and has received a total of $128,139 in in-kind contributions from the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers and the Association of Global Automakers.

Both sides have run radio ad campaigns, and the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee also ran television ads in favor of the law during the month of July.

The Law In Question

The proposed Availability of Motor Vehicle Repair Information law would prohibit manufacturers from selling or leasing new motor vehicles without allowing the owner to have access to the same diagnostic and repair information made available to the manufacturer's dealers or in-state authorized repair facilities starting with the 2015 model year.

Under the law, electronic access to the diagnostic and repair information would have to be provided to owners or designated independent repair facilities on a subscription basis and at fair market value. For vehicle from model years 2002 through 2014, manufacturers would be required to make the same information, as well as any diagnostic repair tools, available for purchase by vehicle owners or independent repair facilities.

If Question 1 passes, the Availability of Motor Vehicle Repair Information law will go into effect on January 1, 2013.

"Our basic premise is: you bought the car, you ought to be able to get it fixed where you want," said Art Kinsman, a spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee.

In a statement against the measure, presented by David Martin, the treasurer of Citizens Committee for Safe and Fair Repair, the group argues that such repair information and tools are already available for purchase by anyone under a 2002 national agreement.

"This measure would negatively alter how repair information is provided and mandate the redesign of all cars, trucks, 18-wheelers, public transit and school buses, fire engines, ambulances, motorcycles and RVs," Martin said, adding that the backward redesign could increase sticker prices for consumers.

A survey of 600 likely Massachusetts voters conducted by the Suffolk University Political Research Center last month found that 79 percent of voters supported the law proposed under Question 1.

A Legislative Fix

In August, Governor Deval Patrick signed off on a bill, passed during the final day of this year's state legislative session, which will allow vehicle owners and independent repair shops access to the diagnostic and repair information for passenger vehicles from manufacturers. The law represented a compromise between automakers and consumers and independent repairers by allowing manufacturers until 2018 to install mandated onboard diagnostic and repair systems in new cars, rather than the 2015 roll-out date specified in the ballot measures.

"There are good things about the ballot question, but overall we're very happy with the bill the legislature passed," said Aaron Lowe, Vice President of Government Affairs for the AAIA.

However, by the time the legislation passed, it was too late to remove Question 1, the "right to repair" measure, from the November ballot. Both sides tentatively agreed to skip or vote no on Question 1 following the bill's passage, but the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee said its members still believe it is important that the ballot measure is approved.

Still an Open Question

Kinsman said the feedback the group has received from its coalition, which includes consumers as well as 2,000 independent repairers, has been overwhelmingly in favor of the original measure.

"Really without exception, everyone still wanted to vote for the ballot," he said.

"There were some additional types of vehicles, and the people who represent them have a legitimate argument that they ought to be covered too."

Kinsman said the negotiated compromise with legislators and car manufacturers did not address other types of vehicles such as motorcycles, larger trucks and RVs, which would be covered under Question 1. He also noted that the ballot measure contains additional, tougher penalties than the bill passed this summer including prohibiting manufacturers and dealers from selling cars in Massachusetts if they are out of compliance.

"We still are saying skip Question 1," said Annemarie Pender, Communications Director for the Association of Global Automakers.

Pender said the group feels that the ballot measure is unnecessary and that the negotiated agreement that was passed by the Commonwealth's legislature was in the best interest of all the parties involved.

If Question 1 passes, it would supersede the recently passed state law.

Kinsman said he did not think the Right to Repair Committee would be planning any big last-minute radio or television ad blitzes.

"We feel pretty good about our chances of the question winning," he said.

"At this point, we'd rather not add to the election clutter." 

 

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