Raleigh, N.C. — The 2022 Farm Act passed its first committee Tuesday following considerable public opposition to a “right to repair” provision in the annual omnibus.
Right to repair is a national movement that pits consumers and independent service businesses against manufacturers and dealers. According to the Digital Right to Repair Coalition, a trade organization, the use of increasingly sophisticated technology in everything from cars to phones to farm equipment has given manufacturers and their licensed dealers a near-monopoly on repair services.
Farmer advocacy groups have been especially outspoken on the issue as farm equipment becomes more and more dependent on software.
Right-to-repair advocates say manufacturers should have to sell parts, manuals, and software diagnostic tools directly to independent shops and customers at the same price they sell to dealers. That’s what the provision included in Senate Bill 792, the 2022 Farm Act, that was under consideration Tuesday morning.
Manufacturers and their licensed dealerships counter that they spend millions of dollars stocking parts and training field technicians to service equipment safely and within the parameters of federal laws like the Clean Air Act.
More than a dozen dealers and representatives lined up to speak against the provision in the state Senate agriculture committee Tuesday. Sen. Brent Jackson, the bill’s sponsor, said his phone had been ringing off the hook since the bill first became public early Monday.
Jackson, R-Sampson, ultimately said he would amend the bill to send the right-to-repair issue to a study commission, saying it would hold future town hall meetings on the issue in rural areas.
Jackson said he had included the provision at the request of several other state lawmakers.
“I’ve sort of been accused that this is a nationwide thing going on,” Jackson said. “To my knowledge, [neither] myself nor my staff has spoken to anyone outside our office and our research staff and drafting concerning this legislation.”
An independent repair shop owner spoke in favor of the provision, as did North Carolina Farm Bureau Federation spokeswoman Stacy Sereno.
“We do support the right to repair our equipment,” Sereno said, “and we’re interested in working together cooperatively.”
But supporters were far outnumbered by opponents, who warned that giving consumers access to embedded software would allow unsafe or illegal modifications to the equipment, from emissions compliance to safety shutoffs.
Philip Brooks, a dealer from Monroe, said his service techs receive extensive training. “A simple common rail diesel system with a line broken loose with a wrench under pressure can kill a man. We need to be careful of all these things,” he told the committee.
Brian Jennings, a farm equipment dealer from Elizabeth City, testified: “I do not support the attacks—and I call them attacks—on our business. We are contracted dealers. We spend a lot of money to be dealers.”
The bill, which passed committee on a voice vote, would also send the state further down the the path to permanently legalizing its booming hemp industry. The bill would distinguish hemp from marijuana by defining hemp as cannabis having less than 0.3% of Delta-9, the chemical in marijuana that produces the drug’s high. It would also exclude hemp from the state’s list of controlled substances.
Jackson told the state committee that the change conforms to federal law, and is necessary because the 2015 state law that legalized the hemp industry in North Carolina is set to expire on June 30.