Oregon Legislature looks at giving people the right to repair their stuff | Business


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Blake Swensen remembers the day he fell in love with tinkering.

This was 50 years ago in Alaska, and the small plane his father was flying crashed. Swensen, 6 at the time, doesn’t know whether it was an unexpected gust or the plane was too full of caribou meat, but either way, they were now in the middle of nowhere, it was snowing, and cell phones had yet to be invented.

Still, Swensen’s dad found a way.

“I think there was a backpack that he strapped to the tail,” he said. “There was some duct tape involved and some wire. And I just remember it being so interesting in how he accomplished this feat of getting that plane back together and working, and we were able eventually to fly it home.”

Swensen now runs the Tinker Camp in Portland, a program that tries to teach kids that same lesson: “The challenge of it, the acquisition of knowledge. The thrill of doing something that not too many people do … Those kinds of things get you really charged up.”

That’s why he’s supporting House Bill 2698, a bill pushing the “Right to Repair” and currently making its way through the Oregon legislature. The bill would require manufacturers to sell the parts, tools and manuals necessary to fix any household product with a chip in it.

Anyone who has ever tried to replace a computer battery or fix a broken washing machine knows that manufacturers don’t make it easy. They use screws with special heads that are hard to open, or they won’t sell the necessary parts or provide the service manual. So the “Right to Repair” bill would make life easier and cheaper for people who want to fix an old laptop and give it to their kids, for example.

An independent repair shop might charge $200 to replace a battery, while sending it back to the manufacturer could cost three times as much.

“We need this to stay alive,” said Hilary Shohoney, the executive director of Free Geek, a Portland nonprofit that takes secondhand computers and refurbishes them to donate and sell.

Standing in a closet, packed wall-to-wall with hundreds of Apple Macs, she explains that none work. But Apple won’t sell Free Geek the parts to repair the machines because it is not an…