DENVER — The first bill Rep. Ron Weinberg, R-Loveland put his name on since being appointed to replace the late House District 51 Rep. Hugh McKean, is drawing mixed reviews among members of his own party.
House Bill 23-1011 is dubbed the “Consumer Right to Repair Ag Equipment.” It “requires a manufacturer of (agricultural equipment) to provide parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, or documentation, such as diagnostic, maintenance, or repair manuals, diagrams, or similar information (resources), to independent repair providers and owners of the manufacturer’s agricultural equipment to allow an independent repair provider or owner to conduct diagnostic, maintenance, or repair services on the owner’s agricultural equipment.”
Weinberg, who is also the Chairman of the Larimer County Republican Party, was appointed to replace McKean for the 2023-24 session after McKean died suddenly of a heart attack on Oct. 30.
Rep. Mike Lynch, R-Wellington was voted by his caucus to replace McKean as Minority Leader.
Weinberg says despite being a freshman legislator, he was not duped by the two Democrats on the bill — Rep. Brianna Titone from Arvada and Sen. Nick Hinrichsen from Pueblo — into lending his name to the bill. He said he took two months to investigate Titone’s claims before he agreed to co-sponsor it.
“Going down there as a conservative, it’s kind of harsh,” Weinberg said. “And I am a rookie, so I didn’t know if people were trying to trick me into getting on a bill. I did my due diligence with the stakeholders. I contacted all the farmers up here that deal with cattle, that deal with corn that deal with wheat, anybody that has anything to do with ag that has a tractor.”
What he found, he said, was the farmers in Northern Colorado are not happy about how their equipment gets fixed. He openly admitted his district is not an agricultural district, but the districts around him are, he said, and the success of agriculture is important for his constituents.
Failure to comply with the bill, should it become law, would label the manufacturer guilty of deceptive trade practices. And manufacturers would not be allowed to enter into any new contract that would remove or limit its obligation to provide resources to independent repair providers and owners.
It’s common practice for manufacturers of certain equipment, technology and other such things to enter into financial agreements with repair facilities that are given “official” authorization to repair their goods (Apple iPhone for example). The manufacturer will then guarantee the repair will be done correctly for the consumer.
The repair facility is afforded access to parts, embedded software, firmware, tools, or documentation, such as diagnostic, maintenance, or repair manuals, diagrams, or other resources to repair the goods in exchange for financial consideration and promises to keep all such technology and other manufacturing trade secrets private.
Right to repair’s rocky road
Titone has a history of sponsoring bills that force manufacturers into giving up their proprietary information. She attempted a similar bill in 2021 that had nearly identical wording except it applied to electronics, such as cell phones. The bill never made it out of committee despite Democrats being in charge of both chambers of the state legislature.
Titone did not have any Republicans on the bill that year.
She brought the idea back again in 2022, but applied it to wheelchairs. That bill got support from former Sen. John Cooke, R-Greeley, eventually it passed and was signed into law by Gov. Jared Polis.
So far this year, Titone has been unable to get a Republican in the Senate to support her latest attempt.
Freshman Sen. Byron Pelton, R-Sterling said he just can’t get behind it. Pelton, who replaced former Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg is a former Logan County Commissioner in a district that is very agriculture heavy.
Pelton said although he likes the idea in theory, he worries about his producers and the long-term effects of the bill, including forcing manufacturers to give up their tech secrets. He said one of the basic beliefs of conservatives is a belief in property rights, including intellectual property.
“I’m also concerned about the cost of OEM (original equipment manufacturer) parts,” Pelton said. “It’s a good concept, but I’m just concerned about the increased cost to my producers.”
Pelton’s concerns stem from the idea that if a manufacturer has to give up its technology, it will make the money back through increased cost of parts. In many cases, parts for specific farm equipment must come through the original manufacturer.
Some agriculture interests onboard
According to the Secretary of State’s website, lobbyists for the Colorado Farm Bureau, which represents both farmers/ranchers and manufacturers, are currently monitoring the bill, while lobbyists representing six out of 15 entities that have registered interest in the bill are currently supporting it, including the Colorado Cattleman’s Association, the Colorado Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association, and the Colorado Corn Growers Association, among others.
Under the bill, agricultural equipment means a tractor, trailer, combine, sprayer, baler, and other equipment used to plant, cultivate, irrigate or harvest agricultural products or to ranch, as well as any attachments to and repair parts for the equipment listed.
Documentation includes manuals, diagrams, reporting output, service code description, security codes or passwords that are given to an authorized repair provider for purposes of performing the services.
The service code descriptions are a lot of what Weinberg said convinced him to get behind the bill.
“Sure enough, I’m coming to find out that the farmers are smoking mad about how they get these warranties but there is no one to service the parts,” Weinberg said. “The device gets plugged in, and it reads out the error message of what’s wrong with it. But the dealerships — from what the farmers are telling me — there is a complete backlog. They are losing tens or thousands to hundreds of thousands of dollars a day every time they have to put this $500,000 tractor onto a trailer and take that trailer to a service center.”
Weinberg said many of the farmers he talked to in Weld and Larimer counties got fed up with it and began buying third-party software that can tell them what’s wrong with their equipment. But the software, which is imported from Russia and the Ukraine, Weinberg said, is illegal and voids their warranty.
“So, it’s very frustrating for these farmers that they can fix this problem in a day or two, but if they put this thing on a trailer and haul it out to a John Deere location, they get (ripped off),” Weinberg said. “Not one farmer that I’ve spoken to, are not madder than heck, and I’ve spoken to quite a bit many.”
Weinberg, who immigrated to the United States with his family in 2002 from South Africa, said there is a simple answer to those who think it violates the free market and are worried about OEM costs rising.
“At what point in time are Americans going to adopt the reason we’re Americans — self responsibility,” he said. “If somebody wants to (fix their own equipment), they should be given the freedom and option to do it. They have to pay the consequences because that’s a heck of a lot of money to void a warranty. I am all about freedom.”
Weinberg added if the equipment was getting fixed, he wouldn’t even think about sponsoring this bill.
“But guess what? We have a problem, and it needs a solution,” he said. “And our agriculture community is being affected. And that is not freedom to me. The (corporations) have done this to themselves. And this is what happens when people get mad and require a legislator to do something that helps them.”
He also said he also understands some concerns that this will just snowball into more bills taking away more proprietary rights. He said he’ll approach each bill individually.
“That’s with everything,” he said about the possibility of a snowball. “You can’t avoid that. I always worry about that. But this is an immediate issue, and Colorado is desperate to find a solution. If the next one is something that is wrong, I can guarantee I will fight it until it dies.”
The bill does not have a safety clause on it, meaning if it passes, any Colorado resident could challenge the bill and force it to go to the voters, so long as a petition is filed within 90 days after the final day of the 2023 legislative session. Those wishing to repeal the bill would need to gather 124,238 signatures from registered voters in 60 days to force it to a vote. It would appear on the 2024 ballot.
The bill will be heard in the Agriculture, Water and Natural Resources committee, at 1:30 p.m. on Feb. 6 in HCR 0107.
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