Area mechanics and auto-part distributors gathered at last week to discuss Right to Repair legislation in Massachusetts with State Senator Thomas P. Kennedy of Brockton.
"I want to absorb as much information as possible," said Kennedy to the dozens of auto mechanics and part distributors who are in favor of the legislation to require car manufacturers to sell to independent car repairers code data provided to franchise dealers.
Kennedy is the senate chair of the Joint Committee on Consumer Protection, which is scheduled to hold a hearing on the bill on June 28. Currently the bill states:
"The manufacturer of a motor vehicle sold in the commonwealth shall make available for purchase to independent motor vehicle repair facilities and motor vehicle owners in a non-discriminatory basis and cost as compared to the terms and costs charged to an authorized dealer or authorized motor vehicle repair facility all diagnostic, service and repair information that the manufacturer makes available to its authorized dealers and authorized motor vehicle repair facilities in the same form and the same manner as it is made available to authorized dealers or an authorized motor vehicle repair facility of the motor vehicle. ... "
"The information must include, but is not limited to, the following: (1) all diagnostic, service, training and repair information and tools related to the proper and complete diagnosis, service and repair of a motor vehicle including any diagnostic codes used to activate all controls that are required to be activated by a repair technician to diagnose, service and repair the motor vehicle; and (2) tools and software capabilities, including wireless capabilities, related to the diagnosis, service and repair of a motor vehicle."
The bill was proposed last year, but time ran out in the legislative session before it was voted on.
"In the end, it's all about consumer choice and it's also about independent businesses," said Art Kinsman, a spokesperson for the Right to Repair Coalition, which supports the bill.
There is also opposition to the bill. The Mass Auto Coalition cites auto security, passenger safety and the protection of intellectual property as items of concern. According to massautocoalition.org, information is available to auto mechanics through the websites of auto dealers.
"For many repairmen, education and computer training may be the issue, not access," the website states.
For mechanics at Bourne's last week, though, the issue was which information auto dealers are required to provide. While many mechanics have developed relationships with area dealerships, they said there is no legislation requiring information to be provided. Many mechanics shared stories of inability to repair a vehicle themselves because they did not have the necessary information.
Additionally, Kinsler said it is not the intention of the bill to require dealerships to provide trade secrets.
"We agree with the manufacturers on two things," he told Kennedy. "We want to protect the trade secrets and we want to protect the security codes."
In addition to the Mass Auto Coalition, many groups have come out in opposition to the bill.
The Boston Herald reported last week that four business groups opposed the bill, including the Associated Industries of Massachusetts, the Massachusetts Biotechnology Council, the Massachusetts Medical Device Industry Council and the Massachusetts High Technology Council "out of concern that it could weaken protections on and force the unrestricted release of intellectual property, including patented technology, copyrighted software programs, and trade secrets."
Additionally, The Massachusetts Police Association and the Boston Superior Officers Federation disagree with the bill, out of fear that auto thefts would increase as a result of the bill.
For Kennedy, whose opinion could play a major role in passage of legislation, he was concerned with both the consumer and workers in the industry.
"My interest is to hear from the people who are down in the trenches," he said.
The discussion in Easton last week and the debate in the state legislature is one that could take off nationally - especially if legislation passes, Kinsman said.
"If it passes in Massachusetts, this bill is probably going to sweep the nation," he said.