PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) — In the first public hearing on a House bill to eliminate mandatory minimum sentences for violent crimes other than murder, strong opinions on both sides of the issue were heard by the Oregon State Legislature.

Some believe HB 2002 — to modify Measure 11 — is an important step in making the justice system more fair toward minority communities.

Critics: ‘Serious impacts’ with proposed Measure 11 reform

“I serve Black Oregonians who have measure 11 convictions and I see its impact every day,” said community member Babak Zolfaghari. “The daily experience of people is hopelessness and the endless struggle in the pursuit of employment, financial aid for education and housing.”

In a joint statement, the DAs from Multnomah, Deschutes and Wasco counties explained they could not support HB 2002 at this time.

While we do have concerns with some aspects of the bill as written and are unable to support it at this time, we look forward to working with the proponents to work to resolve these concerns.”

The DAs’ statement continued on to say they agree that judges should be the ones determining sentences.

“We believe that judges are uniquely well positioned to impose a fair sentence, based on an official record made in open court and within a system where both sides get to make their case. The Oregon District Attorneys Association’s own polling suggests that a majority of Oregonians would like to see judges, not prosecutors, determine sentences for even our most violent offenders. As elected District Attorneys, we agree.”

But many people who spoke said Measure 11, which Oregon voters approved twice, originally in 1994, is an important tool to keep violent offenders off the streets.

Washington County District Attorney Kevin Barton, who thinks dismantling Measure 11 with HB 2002 goes against what most people in Oregon want, said he wants people to think about the crime victims.

“When I think about Measure 11 and I think about what benefit does this provide to our community, I urge you to think about the crime victims, the ones that come into my lobby wondering, ‘Am I going to be protected?'” Barton said.

This debate comes when violent crimes is at its highest in Portland since the 1990s.