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The big picture: Minnesota Governor Tim Walz this week signed into law a new bill that gives consumers the right to repair their electronic devices and gadgets, albeit with a few exceptions. Minnesota is not the first U.S. state to pass a right-to-repair legislation for consumer electronics, as states like New York and Colorado have also passed similar legislation in recent years. Others, like Washington and Maine, have also proposed similar laws that would offer consumers the ability to repair their electronic gadgets and appliances.
The Minnesota law is part of an omnibus appropriations bill (SF 2774) that goes into effect on July 1, 2024, and contains a "digital fair repair" clause that covers most consumer electronics, except video game consoles, motor vehicles, medical devices, cybersecurity tools, residential energy storage systems, and farm and construction equipment. However, it does include most other household electronics, including smartphones, laptops, televisions, washing machines, refrigerators, smart home devices, and more.
The law requires electronics manufacturers to make repair tools and manuals available to consumers and independent repair shops so that they can fix broken devices without having to pay a premium to get them repaired from the company's own service centers. The law applies to all products sold on or after July 1st, 2021, and stipulates that the necessary repair tools and documents must be made available to consumers free of charge within 60 days. Not doing so will be a violation of the state's Deceptive Trade Practices statute, and will invite penalties.
Observers and right-to-repair activists believe that the Minnesota law is more comprehensive in its scope and scale than the New York statute that is slated to come into effect this July. Unlike the Minnesota bill, the one signed by New York governor Kathy Hochul last year left some right-to-repair advocates unimpressed, as it doesn't require manufacturers to sell consumers individual parts, nor does it let third-party repair technicians bypass software locks. It doesn't apply to devices sold before the law was passed either, making it much less comprehensive than what the activists were asking for.
Despite the slew of exclusions in the Minnesota law, it has, for the most part, been accepted warmly by right-to-repair advocates. One of them is Nathan Proctor, the senior director of U.S. PIRG's Right to Repair campaign. In a statement released this week, Procter said that the new legislation is the biggest right-to-repair win for consumers to date. According to him, "Repairs cut waste and save consumers money. It's common sense, and it is becoming increasingly clear that manufacturers' attempts to thwart repair will no longer be tolerated. Minnesota won't be the last state to codify that."