Confusion Reigns With Question No. 1

By Lexi Salazar
Boston University News Service

BOSTON— Voters have been getting mixed messages on whether they should vote for Question 1 — the right-to-repair bill — on the Nov. 6 ballot.

Earlier this fall, a coalition of auto repair shops that placed the question on the ballot joined with auto dealers who opposed the referendum to tell voters to ignore the proposal.

The “skip-it” message came after years of squabbling over a law to requires automobile manufacturers to make computer chip repair codes available to car owners and independent auto shops. But in July, a last-minute compromise was reached between proponents and opponents of the initiative, and the Legislature passed a bill acceptable to both sides.

Because it was too late to remove the question from the ballot, the two sides agreed to the message that would let the ballot question die.

“What had been agreed to with folks on both sides of the issue was that they would work together to educate the public about the law and say that the ballot question was not necessary,” Dan Gage, a spokesman for the Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers, said. “We were all moving forward with that until last week.”

Last week, the Right to Repair Committee along with AAA of Southern New England announced it would encourage voters to vote “yes” on Question 1. According to Art Kinsman, a spokesman for the committee, the law passed by the Legislature is good, but it just isn’t quite good enough.

“The Legislature deserves credit for doing the most good for the most people they could in the given frame of time,” Kinsman said.

Kinsman said there are a few key differences between the law and the original ballot question. He said the law proposed by the ballot initiative includes vehicles such as motorcycles and motor homes. The law passed this summer did not.

The ballot question would require car manufacturers to forfeit their licenses to sell cars in Massachusetts if they violated these new information-sharing laws — a provision left out of the law.

The ballot question required auto manufacturers to comply by 2015; the law extended the deadline until 2018.

“Models for 2015 cars are already designed and ready to reach production. Auto manufacturers can’t make the necessary changes to be ready for 2015 in this amount of time,” Gage said.

Kinsman said his group honored the agreement made in July but found that ballot proponents thought the “skip it” message didn’t work for voters passionate about the issue.

“Our commitment was that we’d educate people on what was passed. We did that. We kept our word,” Kinsman said. “We heard loud and clear from our coalition that they wanted to vote yes on this. They wanted to put their stamp on the right-to-repair issue. We’re just reflecting what our membership is telling us.”

Gage said the new uncertainty about which law would prevail if the ballot question passes is making it hard on auto manufacturers.

“It will be up in the air if the ballot question passes,” he said. “We need a sense of certainty. We need to know what’s required of us to sell in Massachusetts.”

But Kinsman does not believe that reconciling the differences between the ballot question and the law will be an issue.

“It took four years to get this legislation passed. I don’t think taking some time to work out the differences will be a big deal,” Kinsman said.

Although proponents of the original ballot question are now urging a yes vote, Gage said that opponents will continue to encourage voters to skip the question.

“Automakers are going to continue to support that agreement that’s now law,” Gage said.

This article was also featured on Cape Cod Times

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