The House and Senate: There were no roll calls in the House or Senate last week. This week Beacon Hill Roll Call looks at Question 1, one of the two questions on the ballot that will be decided directly by the voters in November. Secretary of State William F. Galvin has mailed the “Information for Voters on the 2020 Ballot Questions,” nicknamed the “Red Book,” to voters across the state. If you didn’t receive a copy, you can see one at www.sec.state.ma.us/ele/elepdf/IFV_2020.pdf or call the secretary’s office at 1-800-462-VOTE to have one mailed to you. Question 1 asks voters if they approve of a proposed law that would require that motor vehicle owners and independent repair facilities be provided with expanded access to mechanical data related to vehicle maintenance and repair. Governor Charles D. Baker Jr.’s Office of Administration and Finance is required by law to analyze the fiscal consequences if the proposed law is approved. “The proposed law has no discernible material fiscal consequences for state and municipal government finances,” says the analysis.
“Massachusetts voters voted a record-setting 86 percent in favor of the Right to Repair ballot initiative in 2012,” said Tommy Hickey, director of the Right To Repair Coalition, the group urging a “yes” vote on Question 1, to Beacon Hill Roll Call. “Technology has evolved and there was a loophole in the law carving out wireless communications that manufacturers are using to restrict access to independent repair shops forcing consumers to dealerships. This ballot initiative would give car owners direct access to their diagnostic and repair information because we, as a coalition, believe if you bought the car, you should get all the information necessary to fix it and share the information with a repair shop of your choice.”
“Question 1 is not Right to Repair,” said Conor Yunits, spokesperson for the Coalition for Safe and Secure Data, the group urging a “no” vote on Question 1, to Beacon Hill Roll Call. “We already have Right to Repair in Massachusetts, and it works: More than 70 percent of post-warranty repairs are done by independent mechanics. They are a critical piece of the repair network and that will not change. Question 1 is about major national retail chains like AutoZone and NAPA spending $21 million in Massachusetts because they want your data. Question 1 creates an ‘open access platform’ that connects to every vehicle in Massachusetts and unlocks a secure system, which is why the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration warns that malicious actors could access and potentially take control of your vehicle.”
A dispute has also erupted between the two groups on whether the availability of this information can be dangerous for victims of domestic violence.
“Domestic violence advocates warn how dangerous this information could be,” says Yunits. “Jane Doe Inc., the Massachusetts Coalition Against Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence, wrote, ‘Access to vehicle data, particularly call logs and GPS location, enables persons who perpetrate abuse to possess the tools necessary to track and monitor their victim.’”
But supporters of Question 1 disagree. “The Jane Doe group was ill-informed that this ballot initiative was about GPS location which it is not,” responded Hickey. “They have since withdrawn their position after finding out that this was simply about mechanical information necessary to diagnose, maintain and repair the car. In fact, they have also stated they did not give permission to car manufacturers to use their group’s name in the voter guidebook.”
Toni Troop, Director of Communications and Development for Jane Doe Inc., responded to Beacon Hill Roll Call’s request to explain the situation. “This past week, many of you received a 2020 Voters Guide in the mail,” said Troop. “In that guide, Jane Doe, Inc. is quoted and portrayed as opposing Question 1. We would like to be clear that [we were] not consulted about our inclusion in this guide. While Jane Doe Inc. is not taking a public stand on this ballot question, at this time, we do not believe that a yes vote on Question 1 would uniquely compromise survivor safety in the manner portrayed by opponents [of the bill].”
Opponents of Question 1 defended their use of the quotes from Jane Doe. “Our Red Book language quotes directly from public testimony Jane Doe Inc. submitted to the Legislature,” countered Yunits. “We followed appropriate channels to inform them this language would be included in the Red Book before it was submitted in July.”
“When we were first presented with the Right to Repair issue late last year, we turned to our coalition partners in California for guidance given that they had recently navigated a similar initiative in their state,” said Troop. “Drawing from their experiences and insight, we wrote testimony in opposition to the Right to Repair legislation. At the time, our analysis of that legislation raised some safety and privacy concerns for victims and survivors of sexual and domestic violence that we did not feel had been adequately addressed by proponents. We raised specific concerns regarding the potential for abuse due to the broadening of avenues to abuse access to data.”
“Since January, our analysis has evolved,” continued Troop. “The current ballot question proposed is distinct from what was initially proposed in California and does not appear to pose the heightened risk of breach of personal information as suggested by those who oppose this initiative.”
“Let’s be very clear,” said Brian Johnson, owner of Brian’s Auto Repair and Tire in Fitchburg and a supporter of Question 1. “Car manufacturers have one goal here, and one goal only—to steer you to their dealerships where you will pay more for the services. They may tell you otherwise, but the bottom line is this: Without access to their secure gateways, we will have no way of accessing the diagnostic information we need. And it is prohibitively expensive to gain that access.”
“Right to Repair 2020 is not about repair at all,” said General Manager Jason Pappas of Copeland Chevrolet in Brockton, an opponent of Question 1. “The OnStar system is the largest vehicle telematics system in the United States and as a Chevrolet dealer we do not use it to repair vehicles. We connect to vehicles through the OBD 2 Connector under the dashboard, which is the same way independent repair facilities connect to a vehicle. Vote no on Question 1 and protect your data. This is nothing more than a data grab by aftermarket parts manufacturers and large repair chains.”
Also Up on Beacon Hill
Mandate Masks (HD 5181) – Representatives Jon Santiago (D-Boston), Mindy Domb (D-Amherst) and Christina Minicucci (D-North Andover) filed a bill last week that would require every person in Massachusetts to wear a face covering when in any indoor or outdoor public setting, including any building open to the public, elevators, hospitals, doctor’s and dentist’s office; while using public transportation, any taxi or ride-sharing vehicles; at outdoors public spaces including public parks, streets, sidewalks or recreation areas when a distance of at least six feet cannot be maintained by any non-household member. Individuals would be allowed to remove their masks when seated at a restaurant or other food establishment while eating or drinking if a distance of at least six feet is maintained from other tables. They could also remove the mask when engaged in exercise activities and when in an outdoor public area as long as the six feet distance from non-household members is maintained. The measure exempts children under the age of two years old; persons with a medical condition, a breathing problem, mental health condition or disability that prevents them from wearing a face covering or prevents them from removing it without assistance, as long as medical documentation can be readily verified. The ban would stay in effect until the end of the governor’s COVID-19 state of emergency. The Department of Public Utilities commissioner and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, would be required to create and oversee a process to distribute cloth face coverings to local emergency management directors or local health officers for use by municipal employees and residents. The mandate would be enforced by local boards of health and first-time violators of the ban would be given a written warning followed by a civil penalty of up to $100 for each subsequent violation. The state would be required to post a travel advisory at all points of entry into Massachusetts, including airports, maritime ports, bus and train stations and digital electronic highway signs. The advisory would state that all travelers entering Massachusetts from a state with a COVID-19 positivity rate of 5 percent or higher will be required to quarantine for a period of 14 days. Other provisions prioritize COVID-19 testing for vulnerable populations, whether or not they have symptoms; institute enforceable workplace safety standards during reopening to protect workers, customers and communities; and bolster the capacity of local boards of health. “The last eight months have been incredibly challenging for our commonwealth and our country,” co-sponsor Santiago who is also a doctor. “As a frontline healthcare provider who treated patients throughout the entirety of Boston’s COVID-19 surge, I have seen loss beyond measure and don’t want us to forfeit our hard-earned progress. Now is the time to double down on strategies that mitigate transmission and allow for a safe reopening.” The other two co-sponsors Reps. Domb and Minicucci did not respond to repeated e-mails from Beacon Hill Roll Call asking them to comment on the proposal.
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