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Agreement on auto repair came before vote

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Richard Andrew of Green River Auto uses computers to diagnose and repair cars at his Greenfield shop daily. <br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Richard Andrew of Green River Auto uses computers to diagnose and repair cars at his Greenfield shop daily.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Richard Andrew of Green River Auto uses computers to diagnose and repair cars at his Greenfield shop daily. <br/>

    Recorder/Paul Franz
    Richard Andrew of Green River Auto uses computers to diagnose and repair cars at his Greenfield shop daily.
    Purchase photo reprints »

  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Richard Andrew of Green River Auto uses computers to diagnose and repair cars at his Greenfield shop daily. <br/>
  • Recorder/Paul Franz<br/>Richard Andrew of Green River Auto uses computers to diagnose and repair cars at his Greenfield shop daily. <br/>

Like one of those pesky car malfunctions that seems to vanish only when you try to get it fixed, the “Right to Repair” ballot question threatens to bewilder voters on Tuesday.

Question 1, which both sides had declared could be skipped over because of compromise legislation approved by the Legislature, is now a live issue for voters to weigh in on.

Both sides in the debate — independent repair shops that said they lacked access to auto manufacturers’ expensive diagnostic systems, and the car makers who called that information proprietary — had said after a legislative compromise was reached in late July that voters could skip over the measure.

“Voters can support the Right to Repair law by skipping Question 1 altogether on Election Day,” announced in a Statehouse press conference Sept. 27 to hail compromise legislation they called “a victory for everyone. Consumers and independent repairers benefit because information and tools will always be made available for purchase. Automaker innovation and intellectual property and dealer investments are protected.”

But now, proponents of the measure — calling themselves the Right to Repair Coalition — are urging its passage, while the consortium of car manufacturers and auto dealers are still maintaining that this is one ballot question voters should simply ignore.

At the same time, Sen. Stanley Rosenberg, D-Amherst, suggests that voters vote no on the question to avoid chaos in trying to untangle the results if it should pass.

Compromise legislation approved by the Legislature was intended to head off the proposal backed by the coalition of groups including the American Automobile Association, Midas, Firestone, Meineke and the Massachusetts Retailers Association that calls for carmakers to provide access to diagnostic and repair information systems through a universal software system that can be accessed by dealers and independent repairs shops. The new first-in the-nation legislation was signed into law by Gov. Deval Patrick and is due to take effect Nov. 6, the same day that voters will confront the ballot question.

“We are now, and have always been a “Yes on Question 1” Committee,” said Art Kinsman, spokesman for the Massachusetts Right to Repair Committee, in that group’s renewed call to support the ballot question. “Although our coalition, ballot committee members, and consumers were pleased with the legislature’s action, they still overwhelmingly supported a ‘Yes’ vote.”

But Rosenberg said if voters approve the question, “It will come into conflict with portions of what the Legislature and the governor put into law this summer. The result is there will be confusion, a certain amount of chaos and there’s very likely to be litigation.

“We were the first state in the country to do something in law to try to make it possible for people to go to any repair shop and they’ll have the information to fix their car, but if this passes, we’ll probably freeze everything and find ourselves in the situation where not only don’t we have what we could have had, but we’ll also have litigation and a certain amount of confusion and chaos.

“We might have a real conundrum The very people who agreed to it on one side are now reneging on their agreement after it’s become law.

“That’s just bizarre and inexplicable.”

Rather than ignoring the question, as opponents are calling for, Rosenberg recommended a no vote to avoid undoing the compromise.

“If the people who are organized are organizing people to vote ‘yes’ and everybody else sits on their hands, there’s an increased chance that the ballot question will pass,” he said.

Alliance of Automobile Manufacturers spokesman Daniel Gage said that even though “right to repair proponents reneged on their agreement, his organization would not call on voters to defeat the question.

“We entered into a good-faith negotiation with the other side,” he said. “We all agreed to a joint effort to educate voters that Question 1 is not needed. A deal’s a deal.”

But if the brokered agreement falls apart because voters approve a competing measure, Gage acknowledged, “We’ve said all along a Right to Repair law was unnecessary.”

Another element in the equation, though, is that even if the “yes” voters are in the majority, the Massachusetts Constitution requires that in order for it to become law, the “yes” vote would have to be at least 30 percent of all voters who cast ballots in Tuesday’s election. Secretary of State spokesman Brian McNiff said he’s never heard of a ballot question receiving a majority vote while failing to meet that 30 percent threshold.

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