Bente Birkeland

Capitol Coverage Reporter

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for Rocky Mountain Community Radio stations, including KVNF, since 2006. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May, covering important bills, discussions, and the positions of our state legislators. 

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NEWS
4:00 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

Citing A 'Gap' In Law, Cadman Introduces Fetal Homicide Bill

Colorado General Assembly

Originally published on Thu April 16, 2015 12:25 pm

Following a March attack in Longmont where a mother's unborn child was cut from her womb, Colorado's Senate President has introduced a fetal homicide bill. As written, Senate Bill 268 [.pdf], would define a person as an unborn human being from conception until birth for the purposes of homicide and assault cases. It's expected to draw vigorous debate at the statehouse.

"Frankly crime victims deserves justice, society demands justice," said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs). "Currently there's a significant gap in Colorado."

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NEWS
9:49 am
Wed April 15, 2015

With Votes Suddenly Scarce, Colorado's American Indian Mascot Bill Is Delayed

Colorado General Assembly

Originally published on Wed April 15, 2015 7:50 am

Democrats in the House unexpectedly delayed a vote on an American Indian mascot bill after they realized Republicans had enough votes to stop it.

House Bill 1165 [.pdf] would set up a state commission to review American Indian mascot names associated with high school and college athletic teams. Without approval, schools would have to switch their names or face fines.

“You can’t honor people based off of words, based off of racist intentions that required extermination,” said bill sponsor Representative Joe Salazar (D-Thornton).

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POLITICS
3:40 pm
Tue April 14, 2015

Session's End In Sight, Which Bills Have A Chance At The Capitol?

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon April 13, 2015 5:01 am

The state budget has cleared both legislative chambers but still needs to head to a conference committee to iron out differences. The end of the budget process means lawmakers will shift their attention to other bills before the end of the session. With that May 6 deadline rapidly approaching, what's in store for some of the outstanding legislation?

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NEWS
7:33 am
Thu April 9, 2015

With Partisan Wrangling In The Senate, What's Next For The Colorado Budget?

Ken Lund Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Mon April 6, 2015 7:55 am

The annual Colorado budget is making its way through the statehouse. It cleared the Senate on a vote of 21 to 14, passing largely along party lines, with three Democrats joining Republicans to support it. What are the dynamics in play?

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NEWS
1:50 pm
Thu April 2, 2015

Colorado Budget Clears First Hurdle Of The Split Legislature

Ken Lund Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Thu April 2, 2015 1:34 pm

The State Senate adopted the annual budget Thursday, approving $9.6 billion dollars for Colorado's general fund to pay for schools, parks, roads and prisons among other state programs. The budget gained unanimous support from Republicans who hold a one-seat majority in the chamber.

"I believe it has hit the proper balance," said Senate Majority Leader Mark Scheffel (R-Parker).

Passing a balanced budget is the only job lawmakers are technically required to do under the state constitution. It starts with a draft from the Governor, followed by months of meetings from the Joint Budget Committee to craft it. Following passage in the Senate, the budget moves on to the Colorado House.

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NEWS
11:16 am
Tue March 31, 2015

Tax Break Study Bill Introduced At The Colorado Statehouse

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Tue March 31, 2015 7:20 am

Under current state law Colorado provides 186 tax breaks ­— everything from vending machine food to dairy equipment, affordable housing, livestock feed, and fuel for light, heat, and power.

"I think it's worth us taking a look periodically to make sure we are being responsible to the tax payers with their tax money to say where is it being spent and are we getting a good return on the investment," said Representative KC Becker (D-Boulder).

With that in mind, Colorado lawmakers want to see whether the state is getting its money's worth from all those tax breaks designed to create jobs and boost the economy.

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NEWS
11:53 am
Wed March 25, 2015

Testing Reform Remains In A Holding Pattern At The Legislature

Gov. John Hickenlooper touting SB 215 alongside Senate Pres. Bill Cadman, Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst, and Kelly Brough, the president of the Denver Metro Chamber of Commerce. The measure is now being reworked.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Wed March 25, 2015 11:05 am

On average students in Colorado classrooms take more than two-dozen assessments before they graduate, in some cases up to four times a year according to the Colorado Education Association. Critics say it actually means less time for overall learning.

A bipartisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take remains in limbo at the state Legislature. The sponsors delayed the first hearing and don't know when it will be rescheduled – if at all.

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NEWS
5:05 pm
Tue March 24, 2015

What Colorado's Latest Economic Report Means For The Budget

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon March 23, 2015 5:04 am

Colorado's latest revenue forecast was good news for lawmakers, showing a healthy economy and more money for the state budget. There was also one notable hedge, the uncertainty around low oil prices and the oil industry's effect on the state economy.

So just what are the implications of more state revenue? We turn to the reporters that work the halls of the capitol to find out.

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NEWS
5:44 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Kids Count Report Delivered To Lawmakers, Shows Decrease In Child Poverty

Children visit the state capitol for the release of the annual Kids Count Report from the Colorado Children's Campaign.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Tue March 24, 2015 7:56 am

Colorado's childhood poverty rate has decreased for the first time in five years. The latest data comes as part of the annual Kids Count Report, which offers information on the health and well-being of children across the state.

"That is great news for Colorado," said Lt. Governor Joe Garcia. He went on to add that there's always a but, "We know that there are still far too many children growing up in households where they don't have access to the opportunities and resources they need to be healthy and succeed."

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NEWS
1:09 pm
Fri March 20, 2015

Testing Reform Bill Is Pulled At The Legislature

Colorado General Assembly

Originally published on Fri March 20, 2015 6:05 am

A bipartisan measure to reduce testing for students in Colorado's public schools is not proceeding as planned through the statehouse. Senate Bill 215 [.pdf] was scheduled for a hearing in the Senate Education Committee Thursday. No longer, it was pulled from the calendar before the hearing.

"We just need to make sure we get the policy right," said state Senator Owen Hill (R-Colorado Springs), a sponsor of the measure along with Senator Andy Kerr (D-Lakewood).

The sponsors are unsure of when SB 215 will get a hearing. The bill would eliminate mandatory assessments in the 11 and 12th grade and reduce redundant tests in the earlier grades. It has been billed as the major school testing reform bill of the session.

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NEWS
5:57 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

As Schuller Steps Down, What's Ahead For Colorado's Energy Industry?

Tisha Schuller, the current executive in charge of the state's trade organization for oil and gas has accounced her departure from the position.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Wed March 18, 2015 7:59 am

The executive director of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, Tisha Schuller, recently announced that she's leaving the state's largest trade organization for the energy industry.

In a statement released by COGA, Schuller said it was a "wild ride" and that she was honored to have represented the state's oil industry. While remaining in her position until the end of May, Schuller sat down to talk about the future of the industry and why she decided to leave her position.

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NEWS
11:39 am
Thu March 19, 2015

Mixed Economic News As The Legislature's Budget Work Nears

Stephen Butler Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Thu March 19, 2015 9:54 am

As they prepare to write the annual budget, there's mixed news for Colorado lawmakers. The latest revenue forecast shows the economy will remain strong, but there is a lot of uncertainty going forward, especially when it comes to low oil prices and how it ripples through the state's economy.

"On net low oil prices are good for the national economy, but for areas where you have energy production, energy production states, on net it has been negative in the past," said nonpartisan Chief Legislative Economist Natalie Mullis. "Colorado is a third tier energy producing state and it does have a dampening effect on our economy."

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NEWS
4:25 pm
Tue March 17, 2015

Which Bills Will Hit The Gov's Desk This Session?

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon March 16, 2015 7:31 am

We're just past the halfway mark for the annual 120-day legislative session. As lawmakers (and the reporters that cover them) enter the home stretch, what's the scuttlebutt under the gold dome? Which bills are being delayed? How is the Governor handling split legislative control?

For insights we picked the brains of reporters who work the halls on daily basis at the capitol.

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POLITICS
9:28 am
Fri March 13, 2015

Colorado Legislature Poised For A Look At Oil & Gas Health Impacts

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Fri March 13, 2015 9:46 am

Trying to get more information on the health impact of oil and gas drilling is a topic that lawmakers will soon be taking up at the statehouse. It comes after the Governor's Oil and Gas Task Force finished their work and issued several health related recommendations.

"I get a little bit concerned and annoyed when people try to use health as the basis of what they don't like about oil and gas," said Dr. Larry Wolk the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

He said he understands the concern, but worries the state doesn't have enough hard data.

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NEWS
5:25 pm
Wed March 11, 2015

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Expansion Stumbles In Committee

Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) and Margery Grandbouche with Hilltop Community Resources, which operates the Get Real Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program testify in support of a bill to expand the program statewide.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Wed March 11, 2015 7:40 am

A bill to expand a teen pregnancy prevention program for low-income youth failed in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on a party line 3-2 vote. Republicans defeated the measure, one that was sponsored by one of their own.

"I guess this is my big thing is let's take an inventory of what we're doing before we throw another layer on there," said Senate Finance Committee chair Tim Neville (R-Littleton).

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POLITICS
6:08 pm
Tue March 10, 2015

Two Republican Religious Freedom Bills Fall In Committee

Opponents of two religious liberty proposals rally at the state capitol prior to the hearing on Monday. They said the bills would hurt business and give people a license to discriminate in Colorado. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westiminster) attended the rally.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 8:52 am

Two Republican religious freedom bills drew strong opposition from gay rights groups, civil liberties organizations and members of the business community Monday. The first bill, known as House Bill 1171 [.pdf], would have forbade government officials from constraining the exercise of religion had it not been struck down in committee.

The second bill, House Bill 1161 [.pdf], would have protected people from facing penalties for refusing to violate their beliefs and was also defeated.

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POLITICS
10:26 am
Tue March 10, 2015

Taking Stock Of Split Control At The 2015 Legislature's Mid-Point

Stephen Butler Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 9:46 am

State lawmakers are officially at the halfway point of the 2015 legislative session. What needs to be done before the end of the session? Lawmakers will need to pass a balanced budget, and along the way grapple with some hot-button issues such as school testing requirements and police reforms.

"Most of the big work is ahead of us, what happens for the first half is kind of getting ready for it," said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs).

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POLITICS
9:24 am
Tue March 10, 2015

Mid-Session, What Are The Odds For Some Hot Topic Bills?

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon March 9, 2015 9:51 am

State lawmakers are midway through the annual legislative session – but there's still a lot to be done.

House Democrats would like law enforcement to increase the use of body cameras, set up a special prosecutor to review decisions when a law enforcement official isn't charged when there are allegations of deadly force, ban choke holds, and collect demographic data on arrests. What are the chances for passage?

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POLITICS
9:53 am
Wed March 4, 2015

Drone Privacy Bill Gets Delayed In Colorado Judiciary Committee

A DJI Quadcopter drone.
Adam Meek Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Wed March 4, 2015 7:42 am

The sponsor of a proposal to put guardrails around the use of drones for non- government purposes asked lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee to delay a vote on the bill Tuesday.

"I would work with members of the committee to make sure it truly protects the privacy of people in the state," said Representative Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park).

The delay came after nearly two hours of testimony that focused on emerging technologies and a person's reasonable expectation of privacy.

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POLITICS
10:39 am
Tue March 3, 2015

What's Next Politically For Oil & Gas In Colorado?

Stephen Butler Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Mon March 2, 2015 11:14 am

Governor John Hickenlooper's oil and gas task force recently proposed nine recommendations to try and easy concerns for people living near energy development, but it did not vote to give local communities more control over oil and gas drilling.

The big question on everyone's mind now: What's next for the state Legislature and for a possible anti-fracking initiative going before voters in 2016?

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