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Employers brace for new laws

Oregon’s minimum wage will increase 15 cents to $9.25 an hour in January, but new rules for providing affordable health care coverage likely will have an even bigger impact on employers next year.

“We have to change the health insurance offering,” said Nikki Jones, part owner of Express Employment Professionals. “It increases our costs unfortunately.”

Express Employment provides health insurance to its 450 temporary workers in the Medford and Grants Pass area. She said her company has assumed more of the cost of health care coverage to keep the rates affordable to employees, a requirement of the Affordable Care Act.

“We may see a temporary increase in demand for temporary workers as employers try to figure it out,” Jones said.

The minimum wage increase and changes to health care coverage aren’t the only laws that will take effect next year.

A number of new laws will take effect on Jan. 1, but then on July 1, marijuana will be legal for those 21 and older will be effective.

Other changes to health care laws are also going to be rolled out.

Large employers with 100 or more workers must start providing health benefits to their full-time employees by 2015 and to at least 95 percent by 2016. Small employers, those with 50 to 99 employees, have until Jan. 1, 2016, to comply.

The minimum wage increase probably will not be as big an impact for employers because it is a lot lower than some were demanding, Jones said.

“I think the small, incremental changes aren’t as detrimental as if you go from $9.10 to $10.10,” she said.

Jones said service and retail operations will feel the impact of the minimum wage hike more.

Unfortunately for employers, they are being hit with an increase in the minimum wage and must absorb a greater share of health care costs at the same time, she said.

Jones said a majority of her clients already pay more than the minimum wage, so that increase won’t have as much of an impact.

Oregon has the second highest minimum wage in the nation at $9.10, second only to Washington, which is $9.32 an hour but will go up to $9.47.

The federal minimum wage is $7.25 an hour. Workers under federal contracts will receive $10.10 an hour, but the federal minimum wage generally has remained untouched since 2009.

Other laws that go on the books in January will be of interest to many Jackson County residents.

A bill sponsored by Rep. Gail Whitsett, R-Klamath Falls, will require giving buyers a chance to test a home for methamphetamine contamination during foreclosure auctions.

Whitsett’s bill was prompted by a couple whose young son fell ill after they unwittingly bought a former meth house. The couple later discovered the house still had high residues of meth.

Rep. Sal Esquivel, R-Medford, said he didn’t have a big problem with the law but felt that it is ultimately the buyer’s responsibility to carefully examine a house.

He said that in the example cited by Whitsett, a realtor did suggest a whole house inspection.

“They refused a whole house inspection,” he said.

Another law that takes effect January will allow those convicted of minor marijuana offenses from other states to obtain a concealed handgun license in Oregon.

Previously, residents who had minor marijuana offenses in Oregon could get a concealed weapons permit, while those convicted in another state could not.

Another new law will allow tenants in mobile home parks can organize an association to purchase a park that is up for sale .

Reach reporter Damian Mann at 541-776-4476 or dmann@mailtribune.com. Follow him at www.twitter.com/reporterdm.