States pick up slack from Trump with populist legislation

Has Donald Trump made good on his campaign’s populist message? If you believe that populism means advocating for the interests of ordinary people over the interests of the wealthy, the answer is of course he hasn’t. The fact is that actions taken by Trump during the early days of this presidency have offered up a steady and undeniable repudiation of the much-ballyhooed populist message that swept the Republican into the White House.

Look at what’s happened in just the first one hundred days. The new president has trotted out one executive order after another in his rush to overturn Obama-era, consumer-friendly protections. From overturning Internet privacy rules, to freezing financial regulations requiring financial advisers to act in the best interests of their clients rather than the advisers’ bottom line, to proposing to kill the Consumer Financial Protection Agency that has recovered more than $11.8 billion for twenty-nine million consumers since 2011, Trump has been steadily chipping away at a system that protects privacy and supports fairness, transparency, and the bottom line of consumers, students, and small businesses.

The truth is that Trump has betrayed the trust of ordinary Americans and sucker-punched nearly every American who isn’t a bigwig of Wall Street, a member of the 1%, an executive at a fossil-fuel company, a multi-national corporation, a bank, or the financial industry or a member of the Trump family. Sadly, this massive deregulation scheme is going to affect the bottom line of ordinary Americans for years to come.

That’s the bad news.

Fortunately, there’s under-the-radar good news brewing in state legislatures across the country, where legislators are introducing truly populist measures called fair-repair acts.

Real Populism at Work: Fair-Repair Legislation

Seeking to tip the scales in favor of consumers, small business owners, and farmers, eight states—Illinois, Kansas, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Tennessee, and Wyoming—are currently advancing bipartisan bills guaranteeing the rights of individual owners and independent repair shops to choose where and how to repair electronic equipment—like smart phones and smart appliances, computers, and high-tech farm equipment. These measures seek to break up the monopoly on after-market repairs that limit repairs to the original manufacturers.  Up until now, that proprietary system has resulted in significantly higher repair costs to businesses, farms, and consumers. These state-led initiatives will not only lower costs but protect good, local jobs—jobs that cannot be outsourced—in the small-repair business sector that has, up until now, been effectively locked out of the electronics repair market.

Not surprisingly, fair-repair legislation has drawn support from a diverse cross-section of independent business groups. Among them, associations representing farmers and ranchers, who increasingly are purchasing and using sophisticated high-tech equipment with embedded electronics, have been particularly active.

And if you think that fair-repair legislation is something that only Democrats and progressives would love, think again. Among the more vocal supporters of this commonsense legislation are the American Farm Bureau, the National Farmers Union, the Iowa Farm Bureau, the Michigan Farm Bureau, the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the New York Farm Bureau, and the Texas Farm Bureau.

This year legislators in New York State are hoping to lead the way and become the first in the nation to pass a fair-repair bill, called the Fair Repair Act, S618. New York’s bill, like fair-repair bills in other states, requires that manufacturers provide fair access to servicing information, technical and service manuals, custom replacement parts and tools, security updates, and diagnostics.

Who would oppose measures like these? Measures that would create and retain jobs, foster competition, increase business for independent repair-shop owners, save consumers money, and extend the life of electronic equipment that otherwise would end up in landfill. The answer is large manufacturers and big tech, including companies like Apple, Cisco, Xerox, and John Deere, all of whom are lobbying hard to prevent fair-repair bills from even coming up for a vote.

Lobbyists Prevailed Last Time Around in New York While Massachusetts Got the Job Done

The track record on fair-repair legislation is mixed. In 2016 a bill introduced in New York State, similar to the one working its way out of committee this year, was stopped in its tracks by lobbying efforts spearheaded by the big four: Apple, Cisco, IBM, and Xerox.

On the positive side, in 2012 Massachusetts scored the first major success when the state passed with 87.7% voter support the Massachusetts Right to Repair Initiative—a right-to-repair bill targeting independent car-repair businesses.

This is how Automotive News reported that breakthrough in 2014. That was the year when carmakers struck a deal with Massachusetts to make the state’s law the national standard beginning with the 2018 models.

“ ’A patchwork of fifty differing state bills, each with its own interpretations and compliance parameters, doesn’t make sense,’ ” says Mike Stanton, president of the Association of Global Automakers. ‘This agreement provides uniform clarity our industry needs.’

‘Under the deal, all auto companies would make their diagnostic codes and repair data available in a common format by the 2018 model year, as the Massachusetts law requires. In return, lobbying groups for repair shops and parts retailers would refrain from pursuing state-by-state legislation.’ “

Pay attention, America. Forget about the sideshow antics of the phony populist in the White House. The fair-repair fight is what real populism looks like. This fight deserves our support.

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