Vote NO on Massachusetts Question 1

By | November 3, 2012

I recommend a vote of NO on Massachusetts 2012 Question 1, the “Right to Repair” initiative.

Its purported goal is to ensure that independent automobile repair facilities have access to the same diagnostic information as car dealerships, so that consumers can have their cars maintained and repaired by whomever they want. This is a laudable goal, but Question 1 is the not the right way to accomplish it; it isn’t even necessary anymore, since a law has already been passed to do what Question 1 would do; and there are some highly questionable games being played at the last minute by supporters of the initiative.

The proposed law requires car manufacturers to make diagnostic data from their vehicles accessible via a single, specific technology. Mandating the use of a specific technology is an incredibly bad idea, because it stifles innovation and could have exactly the opposite of its desired effect, by causing manufacturers to continue to offer access to minimal, limited data through the legally mandated interface while offering additional data through other interfaces not covered by the law.

Furthermore, earlier this year, too late for Question 1 to be removed from the ballot, the Massachusetts Legislature passed, and Governor Patrick signed into law, House Bill 4362, a law intended to address this issue. As far as I can tell, H.4362 does essentially everything that Question 1 would do, without mandating the use of a specific technology.

If Question 1 passes, there will be two different laws on the books trying to accomplish the same thing in contradictory ways, and the legislature will have to waste its time (and therefore our tax dollars!) reconciling them.

Aside from the merits of the proposal, there is some very questionable politics going on that make it extremely difficult to vote YES…

When H.4362 was passed, both proponents and opponents of Question 1 agreed that it was an acceptable compromise, and both sides promised to spend money on advertising to inform the electorate that the two sides had reached a compromise too late to remove Question 1 from the ballot, and that people should therefore vote NO. I don’t know if either side followed through on that promise; I personally did not see a single advertisement to that effect, though I don’t watch a lot of TV so maybe I just missed them.

Then, a few weeks ago, some of the original proponents of Question 1 announced that they’d changed their minds, i.e., that H.4362 was actually not adequate, and they started aggressively encouraging people to vote YES on Question 1.

One cannot help but wonder if Question 1 proponents “agreed” to the compromise law to fool their opponents into not spending their money running advertisements against it, planning all along to “change their minds” a few weeks before the election when it was too late for their opponents to do anything about it.

In short, Question 1 will not benefit consumers; it may very well harm consumers by stifling innovation and preventing some car models from being sold in Massachusetts; it will waste the legislature’s time; and its proponents don’t seem to be playing fair. Please vote NO.

 

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