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Rep. Johnson discusses state issues at chamber luncheon

Topics include minimum wage hike, ski litigation

Oregon Rep. Mark Johnson, R-District 52, joined a Sandy Chamber of Commerce Lunch & Learn event on Wednesday, May 25, where he took the opportunity to share his thoughts on recent legislative action and what he considers to be some of the more urgent issues facing the state.

Of special concern to Johnson is the recent hike in Oregon’s minimum wage, which Gov. Kate Brown signed into law in March. The increase will give the state some of the country’s highest minimum wage rates, with workers in Portland getting a bump up to $14.75 per hour by 2022. Suburban Sandy will see a wage increase to $13.50 per hour.

Johnson said he’s not opposed to paying people a living wage, but wondered if Senate Bill 1532 received enough consideration before it was passed following the 2016 legislative 35-day short session. He said he has heard from employers who fear the bill will result in job reductions, and that businesses may have to turn to e-commerce to offset their payroll costs.

“Businesses will always adapt, and unfortunately, I think there’s going to be fewer jobs, especially entry level jobs for young people,” Johnson said, adding he also was paying special attention to recent litigation that could have long-term consequences for the recreational industry.

About 10 people attended the luncheon, held at the Red Shed Public House in Sandy.

In February 2006, 18-year-old snowboarder Myles Bagley was paralyzed after a crash on a jump at Mt. Bachelor. The Bagley family sued Mt. Bachelor in Deschutes County Circuit Court two years later, seeking $21.5 million and saying that the resort was responsible for Bagley’s injuries. A release waiver had been signed when Bagley purchased his lift ticket.

The circuit court tossed the case, pointing to the waiver, and the Oregon Court of Appeals sided with that decision. But the Oregon Supreme Court did not take that view, and in 2014 ruled that the Bagley family could proceed with its lawsuit against Mt. Bachelor.

Members of the recreation industry are watching the lawsuit carefully, Johnson noted, as it seems to suggest that the waiver release form so often used by local resorts doesn’t provide the protection to vendors that it once did.

Another, similar lawsuit was filed against Mt. Bachelor in 2015, after a Bend resident was also injured at the resort. His case was initially rejected in the Deschutes County Circuit Court, but that decision was reversed after the Supreme Court’s ruling on the Bagley case.

“This has had a really chilling impact throughout the state,” Johnson said of the Supreme Court’s ruling and ongoing litigation.

Jon Tullis, director of public affairs at Timberline Lodge, attended the luncheon meeting and agreed with Johnson’s assessment.

“I’ve never seen an initiative that rattled folks in the industry quite like this,” Tullis said. “Everybody’s going to be impacted by this.”

Johnson also used his time to speak up against Initiative Petition 28, a proposed gross receipts tax expected to appear on the November general election ballot. Companies with sales of more than $25 million would have to pay the 2.5 percent tax. Johnson called it a “regressive” tax, noting that companies forced to pay it would simply pass their costs along to consumers.

“It’s going to drive up the cost of living in Oregon,” he said.