Oregon could give consumers the right to repair smartphones, computers, more

An attendee holds a new Apple iPhone 14 Pro during an Apple special event on Sept. 7 in Cupertino, California.
An attendee holds a new Apple iPhone 14 Pro during an Apple special event on Sept. 7 in Cupertino, California.

The public can weigh in Thursday on Senate Bill 542, which would make it easier for consumers and independent repair shops to fix smartphones, computers and other products containing electronics sold in Oregon.

What the bill does

The bill requires manufacturers to make available to consumers and independent repair shops, at a reasonable cost, the documentation, tools and parts necessary to maintain, repair or update consumer electronics sold in Oregon.

It allows civil lawsuits to recover actual or statutory damages of $1,000, and allows class action lawsuits.

The backstory

More and more manufacturers are requiring product repairs to be made at authorized facilities, and voiding warranties or disabling features if they aren’t.

“It’s more and more difficult for consumers to be able to fix what they own,” Charlie Fisher, state director for the advocacy group OSPIRG, said.

Authorized repairs can be more expensive, and can encourage people to buy new instead, contributing to e-waste.

OSPIRG estimates that 4,800 cell phones are disposed of every day in Oregon, Fisher said.

“If every Oregonian were able to extend the life of their phone by one year, it would be the equivalent of taking 8,100 cars off the road when it comes to climate emissions,” he said.

This is the third time the Oregon Legislature has considered a right-to-repair bill.

Oregon was the first state to put forth the proposal, in 2019, with House Bill 2688. That bill died in committee.

Backers tried again with HB 2698 in 2021, but that bill also failed to make it out of committee.

The movement has been picking up steam across the country, and Fisher said he is optimistic this time.

New York and Colorado recently passed similar bills, and 20 states have pending legislation.

U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, introduced a right-to-repair bill in Congress last year.

And President Joe Biden issued an executive order in 2021 encouraging the Federal Trade Commission to limit manufacturers’ ability to restrict independent repairs.

In Oregon, earlier bills covered products ranging from lawnmowers to farm equipment. This time, it’s been narrowed to just consumer electronics and household products.

Who’s behind it

In addition to OSPIRG, the bill is supported by the Oregon Environmental Council, Association of Oregon Recyclers, and Free Geek, a Portland-based technology nonprofit.

The Oregon Department of Environmental Quality is neutral on the bill, but said its provisions align with state and department goals.

“Repair of consumer products supports the efficient use of energy and resources through product life extension, expands equitable access to affordable goods, helps to rebuild the repair economy in Oregon and preserves important capacity for resilience in times of supply chain disruption,” the department said in written testimony.

The bill is opposed by the Repair Done Right Coalition, which has testified against similar bills across the country.

Opponents argue that consumers or independent shops may not have the training and skills necessary for repairs. And they said the legislation could weaken the privacy and security features of electronic products.

“In an era of sophisticated cyberattacks, we should not make it easier to hack devices and networks,” Lisa McCabe, of CTIA, which represents the wireless communications industry, wrote to the committee.

Where it is in the legislative process

The Senate Committee on Energy and Environment will hold a public hearing on the bill during its meeting beginning at 1 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 9, in Hearing Room B at the Oregon Capitol.

Links to testify in person or to submit written testimony can be found at https://olis.oregonlegislature.gov/liz/2023R1/Committees/SEE/2023-02-09-13-00/Agenda.

Tracy Loew covers the environment at the Statesman Journal. Send comments, questions and tips to tloew@statesmanjournal.com, 503-399-6779. Follow her on Twitter at @Tracy_Loew

This article originally appeared on Salem Statesman Journal: Oregon could give consumers right to repair phones, computers