SALEM - The Oregon House narrowly rejected a bill Friday to phase in a voter-approved measure to toughen sentences against repeat property and drug crime offenders.

The bill required a supermajority in the House - at least 40 votes - to change the sentencing measure adopted by Oregon voters in November 2008, but the final tally ended up at 37-22.

It was a setback for the majority House Democrats, who had sought to delay full implementation of Measure 57 until January 2012.

They said the state can't afford the tougher sentencing law right now and that delaying it would prevent cuts to the Oregon State Police and other public safety programs.

"We are trying to keep our public safety systems intact and phase in Measure 57," said Rep. Peter Buckley, an Ashland Democrat who is co-chairman of the Legislature's budget-writing panel.

But the measure failed after Republicans argued that lawmakers shouldn't try to change something that the voters have approved.

"Rather than holding Measure 57 hostage, the Legislature should proceed with savings that continue the measure's implementation and hold repeat property and identity thieves accountable," said House Republican Leader Bruce Hanna of Roseburg.

The bill could come up for reconsideration, but Democrats warned that time is running short between now and the scheduled June 30 adjournment to avoid cuts to public safety programs if Measure 57 isn't phased in.

Democrats knew they were pursuing a politically difficult path, given that Measure 57 was put on the ballot by the 2008 Legislature as a less costly alternative to a more stringent proposal that was defeated by voters.

The bill would delay the measure's stricter sentences for some offenders while keeping the longer time for those who commit aggravated theft or identity theft against the elderly and those who sell significant quantities of drugs to minors.

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