“Right to Repair” ought to be a simple, straightforward concept. But when it gets inside the legislative process, all sorts of complications arise.
The background: Large manufacturers want to keep taking your money long after you’ve purchased their product. They do this by severely limiting access to parts and manuals, and by voiding warranties if you try to fix it yourself or take it to an unauthorized repair shop. So you’re locked in to the manufacturer for service and parts, which is always more expensive than DIY or your local technician.
In response, some states have adopted Right to Repair legislation, which requires manufacturers to lower those barriers. The concept is, if you buy something you own it (incredible notion, that) and you have a right to take it outside the manufacturer’s ecosystem.
A Right to Repair bill was introduced by Sen. Chris Pearson in 2018. It got derailed, thanks mainly to a blizzard of testimony from high-priced suits representing the manufacturers. The Legislature passed a stripped-down version calling for, you guessed it, a study committee. That panel did its business in 2019, and produced a mealy-mouthed report that didn’t come to any firm conclusions.
Which brings us to now.
Rep. Emilie Kornheiser, D-Brattleboro, has introduced H.58, a Right to Repair bill specifically aimed at farm equipment. It got an initial hearing last Wednesday before the House Agriculture & Forestry Committee. That hearing was yet another case study in why this common-sense legislation gets all tangled up in outlandish worst-case scenarios and a curious solicitousness for the interests of big business.
Congratulations to Mitzi Johnson, the apparent successor to Shap Smith as Speaker of the House. She pipped House Majority Leader Sarah Copeland-Hanzas at the post. And although her selection must be ratified by the Democratic caucus and then the full House, there’s no real doubt that she will win.
Johnson is whip-smart and highly capable. She was skillful at managing the House Appropriations Committee, which is a hell of a trick.
As for being Speaker, well, she’s about to discover how different and how difficult that job is.
Shap Smith made it look effortless, but there was constant furious activity below the waterline. He also enjoyed the support of an informal cadre of loyal House members who helped him keep tabs on the ebb and flow of lawmaking and the interpersonal dynamics that must be managed effectively if the House is to function. In that regard, a capable inner circle is just as important as the actual caucus leadership.
Johnson won’t have that. She may or may not realize the importance of having that. But the House is a somewhat random gathering of 150 willful souls with 150 agendas. And by “agendas,” i don’t mean policy; I mean unique admixtures of principle, practicality, intellect (or lack thereof), knowledge (or lack thereof), curiosity (or lack thereof), debts payable and receivable, and ludicrously overdeveloped senses of self-preservation..
House Speaker Shap Smith has put out an impressive, if not exactly unexpected, list of endorsements in his bid for lieutenant governor. They include the House Majority Leader, the Assistant Majority Leader, plus the chairs of twelve House committees. He already had the backing of a thirteenth chair — himself, head of House Rules.
The only two Shapstainers are Agriculture Committee chair Carolyn Partridge and Republican Transportation chair Patrick Brennan.
Two of the Shapbackers, Tony Klein and Bill Botzow, had previously endorsed Rep. Kesha Ram, but that was before Smith entered the race.