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
5:31 pm
Thu May 7, 2015

Colorado's 2015 Legislature Takes A Bow With A Flurry Of Activity

Gov. John Hickenlooper signing the annual budget bill, April 24, 2015. Under the state constitution the only thing the legislature is required to do is pass a balanced budget each year. The last day of the 2015 session was a mad dash for some bills.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Thu May 7, 2015 10:12 am

State lawmakers waited until the last minute to decide some of the biggest issues hanging over the capitol for the 2015 legislative session. They worked overtime to get everything wrapped up before a Wednesday midnight.

Reducing the number of standardized tests public school children take has been a top priority for lawmakers in both parties this session. The Governor even mentioned it during his January State of the State Address. Despite overall agreement on the problem, the issue wasn't resolved until the final moments of the session, after months of negotiations and numerous bills on the topic.

Test reform wasn't alone, priorities such as a felony DUI bill, reauthorization of the Office of Consumer Counsel, a change in the law for rain barrels, and a salary increase for elected officials were all on the docket in the waning moments of the General Assembly.

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NEWS
9:16 am
Thu May 7, 2015

For Rural Colorado, Stability Of Severance Taxes Is Always In Flux

The red brick streets in the historic downtown of Trinidad.

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 7:19 am

As a result of Colorado's booming oil production, energy companies are paying more in severance taxes – money they pay the state for taking minerals out of the ground. Half of it is supposed to go to back to local communities, both directly and through grants. But thanks to market forces – and political conditions in Denver – it's not always a stable source of funding.

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NEWS
3:21 pm
Wed May 6, 2015

Colorado Lawmakers OK Elected Official Pay Raises

Colroado General Assembly

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 1:05 pm

A bill to raise the salaries of state lawmakers and other elected officials quietly made its way through the statehouse in the final days of the legislative session. It cleared the House with the minimum number of required votes. It had virtually no debate in either chamber.

"People in my district, whenever I tell them how much we make as lawmakers up here, are astounded. They are kind of appalled," said Senator Kevin Grantham (R-Canon City), he voted for the measure in the Senate where it passed with a wider margin, 21-14.

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NEWS
3:19 pm
Wed May 6, 2015

Felony DUI Bill Clears Colorado Legislature On Final Day

Colorado General Assembly

Originally published on Wed May 6, 2015 1:04 pm

Colorado will soon have a felony DUI law on the books. On the final day of the legislative session the Senate passed House Bill 1043 [.pdf] to create a felony DUI for habitual drunken driving offenders. Legislators had failed to pass it for several years, this time it passed the Senate 34-1.

"There are some holes this legislation is never going to fill there are family members we're not going to get back, and tragedies we can't undo," said Senator Mike Johnston (D-Denver) the bill's sponsor.

Only a handful of states don't have a felony DUI law. Some lawmakers were worried about the costs of incarceration, other legislators wanted to make sure the state provided proper treatments and interventions before giving jail time.

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NPR Story
9:10 am
Wed May 6, 2015

Office Of Consumer Counsel's Future Hinges On Debate In The Final Day Of The Session

KUNC File Photo

Originally published on Tue May 5, 2015 7:20 pm

The debate over continuing the Office of Consumer Counsel won't be decided until the final day of the state's annual legislative session. The Office represents taxpayers when utility and telecom companies go to the state to ask for rate hikes. Without Senate Bill 271 [.pdf], the Office of Consumer Counsel would sunset and go away altogether.

Determining the scope of the office's role though has been contentious.

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NEWS
4:46 pm
Tue May 5, 2015

What's Left To Do At The Statehouse?

Ken Lund Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Mon May 4, 2015 2:32 pm

The state's annual legislative session adjourns May 6, 2015. The last few days are always hectic as state lawmakers try to push through final bills. Other bills under the gold dome fail on the calendar or just die in committee. So which measures will make it?

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NEWS
11:18 am
Fri May 1, 2015

Colorado Lawmakers Looking For A Pay Bump With New Bill

Colorado General Assembly

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 9:33 am

A bill to raise the salaries of Colorado's elected officials was introduced in the Senate Thursday.  The proposal had been discussed for months, but people working on the measure said state lawmakers in both parties wanted to make sure there were enough votes for it to clear the legislature before allowing an introduction. This late in the session, a legislative leader must approve a bill before it can be introduced.

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NEWS
11:02 am
Fri May 1, 2015

School Violence Immunity Bill Clears Committee Vote

Colorado General Assembly

Originally published on Fri May 1, 2015 7:40 am

A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for school shootings, death, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds cleared the House Judiciary Committee Thursday. It passed on a vote of 10-3.

Currently public schools are not liable. Legislative leaders in both parties are sponsoring the change, spurred in part by the 2013 death of Claire Davis. She attended Arapahoe High School in Littleton when a fellow student shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself.

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NEWS
4:00 pm
Mon April 27, 2015

Lawmaker Pay Comes Up As Colo. Legislature's Close Draws Near

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 8:16 pm

A bill to raise the salaries of elected officials in Colorado is expected to be introduced in the final days of the legislative session. A measure has been in the works for months.

Statewide elected officials in Colorado have not received a raise since 1998. The state's governor ranks 47th in the country in terms of salary, earning $90,000.

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NEWS
8:54 am
Mon April 27, 2015

Fed Land Control, I-70 Tread Bills Debated At The Capitol As Time Ticks Down

KUNC File Photo

Originally published on Mon April 27, 2015 7:13 am

As the state Legislature enters the home stretch, lawmakers recently debated a measure to study whether to transfer federal lands to the state. Another bill aimed at relieving congestion on Interstate 70 heading through the mountains also became contentious. There's not much time left for these debates, the annual session ends May 6.

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NEWS
9:48 am
Thu April 23, 2015

Current, Former Colorado Govs. Make A Pitch For School Testing

Gov. John Hickenlooper joined by former Democratic Governor Roy Romer and Republican Governor Bill Owens. They spoke about the importance of standardized tests in schools as the legislature debates the issue.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Wed April 22, 2015 3:51 pm

Two former governors, Roy Romer and Bill Owens, joined current Gov. John Hickenlooper at the state capitol to urge lawmakers not to go too far in reducing the numbers of standardized assessments school children take. This comes as legislators are debating several bills to lower the number of exams.

Republican Bill Owens said it's important to have standards and test against those standards to see if students are learning what they should, and to evaluate schools and teachers.

"Our friends from the left and the right for differing reasons, don't want to test, don't want to measure, don't want to have accountability," said Owens. "This is stunning to me."

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AGRICULTURE
4:25 pm
Tue April 21, 2015

Bill For Colorado Farm-To-School Expansion Takes A Small Step

A worker prepares school lunch at the Greeley 6 school district's centralized processing facility. Greeley 6 is able to take advantage of locally available foods with the help of the facility.
Jeremy West

Originally published on Tue April 21, 2015 3:25 pm

A bill to expand farm-to-school programs in Colorado initially cleared the state House Tuesday, but it still faces objections from some lawmakers who call it unnecessary.

House Bill 1088 [.pdf] would set up grants to help farms and ranches meet federal safety standards to they could sell their locally produced food to schools.

"This program boosts our economy, it creates jobs, and we have schools right now who want to buy more local food from our farmers and the supply chain does not exist," said bill sponsor Representative Faith Winter (D-Westminster).

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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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