“We should have the right to repair our stuff,” said Oregon Sen. Janeen Sollman, D-Hillsboro. In an op-ed in The Portland Tribune, she made the case for Senate Bill 542, known as the “right to repair” bill. She said too often, when a device breaks the only option is to get a new one or take it back to the manufacturer or authorized repair technicians. Either option can be expensive and consumers should have the ability to do the repairs themselves, Sollman said. And to do that they need access to spare parts, repair documentation like the schematics and manuals, diagnostic software, and special tools. The right to repair bill was voted out of the Senate Energy and Environment Committee this week, which Sollman chairs. She joins us to tell us more about what the bill would do and the impact it could have for consumers.
Note: This transcript was computer generated and edited by a volunteer.
Dave Miller: This is Think Out Loud on OPB. I’m Dave Miller. ‘We should have the right to repair our stuff.’ That’s what Oregon State Senator Janeen Sollman from Hillsboro wrote in a recent op-ed in the Portland Tribune. Sollman is one of the chief sponsors of Senate Bill 542. It’s known as the ‘right to repair’ bill. It would give consumers the right to get access to spare parts, manuals and tools to either fix their phones and laptops and other electronic gadgets themselves or take them to repair shops that are independent from the original manufacturer. The bill passed out of the Energy and Environment Committee earlier this week on a 3-2 vote. Neither of the two Republicans who voted against the bill responded to our invitations to talk about it, but Democrat Janeen Sollman, the bill’s sponsor, did. She joins us now. Senator Sollman, welcome to Think Out Loud.
Janeen Sollman: Thank you so much for having me today. I’m very excited to talk about this subject.
Miller: What does this bill mandate?
Sollman: Well, it actually just is about making sure that manufacturing companies will provide diagnostic tools, information, replacement parts and tools – just make that available to the user or a third party company at a fair price.
Miller: How is that different from the current situation?
Sollman: Well, currently, while some companies are moving in the right direction, towards right to repair, it’s pretty limited in scope. There are hundreds of companies out there that make cell phones, that make laptops and desktops and home appliances. We want to make sure that it’s just universal that, if you purchase your item, you should have the ability to repair that yourself and have your choice to do that. So it is different because [of] the narrow scope. Some companies don’t provide it at all; some companies are maybe releasing a couple of their items that they are choosing that you can repair or just what you can repair – very limited in giving you options.
Miller: There are options, let’s say somebody has an iPhone and they have a cracked screen or their battery goes dead. It is possible to go to, say the Apple store or some licensed place, to get a new screen or to get a new battery. What would be different if your bill were to pass?
Sollman: One, I think that Oregonians just want the freedom of choice. They want to be free. So we are giving them the option that, if they still feel comfortable taking it to the manufacturer, they can do so. If they want to take it to a local ‘Main Street’ business, they could do that as well. Or they can fix it themselves. This is just about giving them choice and also at a more cost-effective manner because taking it through an authorized dealer or sending it to, say Apple, can be a significant cost, and that can be a barrier to people. And then what happens is then we lean towards more of a disposable world. People end up putting their camera or their cell phone that needs repair… they put that aside, and then they purchase a new one. That’s really what we need to move away from.
Miller: How much electronic waste are Oregonians creating right now?
Sollman: It is actually a very quickly growing number. I believe it was 4,800 cell phones that, each year, Oregonians will dispose of.
Miller: 4,800. I mean, that doesn’t sound like very many.
Sollman: Oh, I am so sorry. That is… I’m sorry, that is per day.
Miller: Okay. That sounds like a lot more…
Sollman: I’m sorry for the clarification.
Miller: One thing that’s different about this bill from previous bills in Oregon that attempted similar things is that this one is narrower in scope. It doesn’t include farm equipment, for example. How did you decide what to include in this year’s iteration?
Sollman: This is the third time this was brought forward. In 2019, it basically included everything that had a computer chip in it. I started getting involved in this policy, started working for the 2021 session, where we narrowed the scope and really looked at making sure that we were looking at cell phones and laptops, mostly because what we found was during COVID many students were not having the ability to find secondhand computers and laptops so that they could do their school work at home. This was about reducing the e-waste and potentially getting longer life of equipment so that people could… to get those back in the hands of people that maybe had a difficult time financially.
Miller: Is part of the political calculation here that, if you narrowed the scope of the consumer products, or the products, that would be governed under this, it might be easier to get it to actually pass? If you remove tractors from it, or other kinds of equipment?
Sollman: While we have narrowed the scope, and removed tractors, I think what we just really wanted to focus on is what we were hearing over and over again from Oregonians. Now some states have taken the effort and have moved forward on other different types of products that they would include, whether it’s tractors or whether it’s wheelchairs and such. But we really wanted to just, when we worked on the policy for 2021, we really looked at making sure that we were reducing the e-waste, we’re saving families money… because ultimately, Oregonians, we could save them on average $330 a year just by being able to have them repair their goods.
Miller: So that calculation is, let’s say a family didn’t throw out or get rid of some piece of electronics, but instead they spent some money to fix it or had it fixed. That’s how you get the $300-plus a year? People holding on to things that were fixed.
Sollman: Giving their products a longer life. Making sure that maybe the savings also came with the fact that they could be doing their own repairs. Again, these are repairs… Some of these companies exist now and they’re able… In fact, one of my colleagues was saying he fixed his iPhone, ordered the parts on Amazon and fixed it. Well, unfortunately, what he fixed it with was parts made in China and tools made in China. This bill is about giving consumers in Oregon the ability to get authorized parts so that they can replace and keep their products longer and more safely.
Miller: Although, I mean, there’s nothing to say that authorized parts wouldn’t also be made in China, given that our cell phones probably are made there as well.
Sollman: Well, these are parts that are very specific to the phone, so I think that’s where we want to… that those are the parts that are inside, that say Apple or Samsung, that they sell and put inside their phones. But, yes, you are correct, but the other ones are kind of the knockoff parts. Any time these phones are made and roll off the line in China, there is already a knockoff cell phone, knockoff parts, knockoff tools. I think this is about just making sure that we’re keeping the authorized parts available for Oregonians.
Miller: Who is in the coalition that’s in favor of this proposal?
Sollman: Well, OSPIRG is a main group. It’s the Oregon Student Public Research Interest Group. It’s Environment Oregon. It’s Oregon Environmental Council, OLCV, Metro, SurfRider, Free Geek, the Association of Oregon Recyclers, Oregon Citizens’ Utility Board and, I would also argue, millennials.
Miller: Why? So people in their thirties, you’re saying, are in favor of this. Why?
Sollman: Over and over again, there is just this understanding and folks saying to me, ‘I purchased this. I should have the ability to choose where I have it repaired.’ That overwhelmingly has come through from constituents, from town halls, different conversations.
Miller: The opposition to this legislation, as far as I could tell in terms of testimony submitted to your committee, is almost exclusively from various industry groups, especially various tech manufacturers. What burden would this put on them?
Sollman: Well, I do believe, as we said, some companies are moving in the direction that they’re allowing some consumers to repair some of their items. I think one burden would be that their products will last longer; therefore, people would not be purchasing new items. There’s a lot of stories out there and things saying, ‘Well, what about proprietary information?’ and, ‘Aren’t companies already doing this?’ and some of those conversations. I think that we have really backed this up. The Federal Trade Commission has come in and done presentations about privacy and proprietary information. I really feel like we’ve backed that up strongly. We even placed language inside the bill to specifically call that out.
Miller: I want to run another specific concern by you. A spokesperson for a tech group that is made up of wireless companies brought up cyber security concerns in written testimony to your committee. She wrote that this bill, quote, ‘has the potential to weaken the privacy and security features of electronic products. With broad and unchecked access to technical information, security protections could be easily circumvented.’ What’s your response?
Sollman: The response is that this information that we are asking manufacturers to provide is already information that they’re putting out to their authorized dealers, to some of their independent dealers, to consumers themselves. We’re not asking them to put out anything that they don’t already put out. And we’re certainly not asking them for security tools. That was also mentioned in the bill. We also will mention the privacy issues. We call out Oregon’s privacy law.
I do want to say that I think there is just a genuine fear out there because what I have heard – this was quoted from a business group – is that we’re scared because this seems like it’s the camel sticking the nose under the tent, right? They’re worried because there are multiple states across the United States that are working on these types of policy. The reason is because consumers and Americans demand this. And they’re concerned that, as one falls then the rest will as well. I think that concerns them. That worries them because it provides less control for the way they would like to do business.
Miller: It also, though, gets to another question about. I mean, given that we are dealing with essentially all multinational corporations, huge companies that make these devices for global audiences. What does it mean to legislate them on a state by state basis?
Sollman: Well, I think that, again, this policy is just about asking them for their authorized dealers, for their independent dealers, for consumers that they already may have a policy set up that allows customers to fix their own items. We’re just asking them to release that information to independent dealers, to small businesses like Free Geek, to people like myself, that I may want to fix my phone as well.
Miller: No, I understand that. I guess I’m saying, would you rather this be state by state or federal? I guess is another way for me to phrase that question.
Sollman: Well, I think what we have found with policy here in Oregon, that sometimes many of our cities will put in ordinances, right? And several cities will do so. Then it forces the states to action. So I think the more states that take action towards this type of policy, that will drive federal change. I do think there’s some folks that have come into Congress recently that have taken the right to repair as a conversation that they want to see action at the federal side, too. But I think the states are going to drive that action, and we just can’t wait for them.
Miller: Just briefly, you noted that this is now the third time that a version of right to repair has been introduced in the Oregon legislature. Has anything changed, do you think, politically, since just even two years ago?
Sollman: Well, I mean, we certainly do have several new members here. Two-thirds of the House is new since 2020. We certainly have some new members here in the Senate. But I think ultimately the issues are still the same – that Oregonians want the freedom of choice. And currently, right now, they are faced with very steep financial challenges due to inflation, so this bill can save them money. It also can support small businesses in our communities. So I think that’s what speaks to the fact of importance.
But also, at a time where our U.S. is building our semiconductor ecosystem and chips production in the U.S., we have to do what we can to conserve parts. That includes chips, which on average, there’s 170 computer chips in each new cell phone. So we need to do what we can to repair versus disposing of them.
Miller: Janeen Sollman. Thanks very much.
Sollman: Thank you so much. I appreciate this opportunity to speak on something I’m incredibly passionate about. I know that Oregonians are out there also doing cheerleading, making sure that we pass this important legislation.
Miller: Janeen Sollman is a Democratic state senator from Hillsboro District 15 and one of the chief sponsors of the right to repair bill that’s in the Oregon Legislature. As I noted earlier, it passed out of the Energy and Environment Committee earlier this week on a 3-2 vote. Neither of the two Republicans who voted against the bill responded to our invitations to talk about it.
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