LINCOLN, Neb. (DTN) -- The Nebraska Legislature moved one step closer Thursday to a full floor debate on legislation that would give Nebraska farmers the right to repair their own equipment, as the judiciary committee voted Legislative Bill 543 out of committee.
The bill is labeled as a priority of state Sen. Tom Brandt of Plymouth, making the Nebraska Legislature the first legislature in the country to consider such a law.
The right to repair increasingly has become an issue in agriculture and other industries with state legislatures introducing bills in at least 32 states, including bills in 21 states in 2021. So far, however, similar bills in Florida, Kansas, Montana and other states have stalled.
Part of the issue is equipment manufacturers currently will not allow farmers the hardware or software needed to diagnose a problem, much less repair it. So, dealers must send their teams out to the field to diagnose a problem and likely order parts, then come back out to make the repairs. There may be other complications with repairs.
The current session of the Nebraska Legislature is scheduled to end March 31. The measure has the support of several state agriculture groups, including the Nebraska Farm Bureau, the Nebraska State Dairy Association, Nebraska Corn Growers Association, Nebraska Pork Producers, Nebraska Cattlemen, Nebraska Soybean Association and Nebraska Wheat Growers Association.
Brandt, who is also a member of the Nebraska Legislature's judiciary committee, introduced the bill to the committee in February 2021.
In September 2018, the Equipment Dealers Association, a trade and lobbying group that represents John Deere and other manufacturers, committed to make repair tools, software and diagnostics available to the public by Jan. 1, 2021.
Around the time Brandt introduced the Nebraska bill, U.S. Public Interest Research Group released a report entitled "Deere in the Headlights." The group, also known as PIRG, said manufacturers had not lived up to their commitments to make that equipment available.
Earlier this week, with the support of the National Farmers Union and other ag groups, Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., introduced the "Agriculture Right to Repair Act" designed to give farmers and independent repair shops the ability to diagnose and repair their equipment.
The bill specifically would require manufacturers to make available to farmers and repair shops documentation, parts, software, or tools required to diagnose, maintain or repair their equipment.
The legislation would give farmers and independent repair shops the tools to disable and re-enable an electronic security lock or other security-related functions to proceed with diagnostics, repair or maintenance.
Among other things, Tester's bill would ensure parts are replaceable using commonly available tools without causing damage to equipment, or to provide specialized tools to owners or independent providers on "fair and reasonable" terms.
The legislation would give authority to the Federal Trade Commission to treat violations as an "unfair or deceptive" act.
Back in January, a North Dakota farm filed a class-action lawsuit alleging John Deere is violating the Sherman Act in not making diagnostic software available to farmers who want to repair their own equipment.
The lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Northern Illinois alleges John Deere has monopolized the repair service market for John Deere brand agricultural equipment with onboard central computers known as engine control units, or ECUs.
Forest River Farms in Forest River, North Dakota, asked for a trial by jury and wants the court to order John Deere to make the necessary software available to individual farmers and repair shops.
In addition, the lawsuit seeks damages for farmers who have paid for repairs from John Deere dealers beginning on Jan. 12, 2018, to the present.
Read more on DTN:
"Right-to-Repair Bill Offered in Senate," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"Farm Sues John Deere for Repair Rights," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Todd Neeley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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