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
5:44 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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POLITICS
6:27 pm
Fri February 27, 2015

Hickenlooper On The Work Of The Oil & Gas Task Force

Governor John Hickenlooper.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 6:21 pm

Reaction at the state capitol to work of the Oil and Gas Task Force was decidedly mixed. Members of the governor's own party called the effort a failure, one lawmaker even graded it an "F+."

The proposed recommendations are intended to mitigate the impacts of energy development near communities. While the task force wants local governments to be more involved in developing large drill sites, it stopped short of allowing cities and counties to adopt rules stricter than the state standards.

With the final nine recommendations to hit Governor John Hickenlooper's desk Feb. 27, what are his thoughts on the group's work and the backlash?

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POLITICS
10:05 am
Fri February 27, 2015

Lawmakers React To The Oil & Gas Task Force's Recommendations

Manager of State Government Affairs for ConocoPhillips in the Rocky Mountain Region and task force member Perry Pearce speaks during the groups final meeting Tuesday.
Dan Boyce Inside Energy

Originally published on Thu February 26, 2015 5:47 am

After five months of meetings, and coming up with nine recommendations, the work of Governor John Hickenlooper's Oil and Gas Task Force is getting mixed reviews from lawmakers at the state capitol.

Among the critical voices is Democratic Senator Matt Jones of Longmont.

"What they were charged to come up with is strong community protections, they got an F+, they're talking about how it's really a B, it's not," Jones said.

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NEWS
9:28 am
Wed February 25, 2015

Colorado Family Planning Program Funding Bill Takes First Step

Colorado House

Originally published on Thu March 5, 2015 7:55 pm

A bill attempting to reduce teen pregnancies and provide state funding for intrauterine devices has passed its first test at the capitol. House Bill 1194 would provide $5 million for clinics across the state that offer long-term reversible contraceptives to low-income women and teenagers. Colorado has been running the program with a private grant, which will run out at the end of June 2015.

"Our teen birth rate has dropped 40 percent over the last four years and 34 percent drop in abortions," said Larry Wolk, the executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

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NEWS
6:02 pm
Mon February 23, 2015

Drones, Oil And Gas Taskforce On Tap At The Capitol

KUNC File Photo

Originally published on Mon February 23, 2015 5:18 pm

It's a busy week under the gold dome. The Governor's oil and gas task force, which was charged with trying to harmonize local oil and gas regulations with statewide interests will soon be wrapping up. Many lawmakers have been holding off on introducing oil and gas legislation until the commission finishes its work.

A debate on drones - one that does not fall along party lines - will get a hearing in the Senate Tuesday. For thoughts on what's happening at the capitol, talked to some of the reporters who work there daily.

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NEWS
11:26 am
Fri February 20, 2015

On Behalf Of Two Coloradans, D.C. Group Sues State Over Marijuana

charenton Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Thu February 19, 2015 2:40 pm

The state of Colorado is facing new lawsuits over recreational marijuana legalization. The Washington D.C. based Safe Streets Alliance is suing the state in federal court to try and close down the industry.

"It is illegal under federal law to sell marijuana and in this country federal law is the supreme law of the land," said David Thompson, the lead attorney for the Safe Streets Alliance.

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NEWS
10:24 am
Wed February 11, 2015

How Do You Talk To Students About Weed When It's Legal?

The hallways at Arapahoe Ridge High School in Boulder, Colo.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Wed February 11, 2015 9:34 am

Since Colorado has embraced legal retail marijuana sales, schools are grappling with the best way to discusses it in the classroom amid changing attitudes.

"When it's legal for your parents to smoke it or grow it, that changes the conversation," said Odette Edbrooke, the Health Education Coordinator for the Boulder Valley School District.

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NEWS
9:14 am
Tue February 10, 2015

Legal Pot Linked To Higher School Drug Use? Colorado's Not Sure

halseike Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Tue February 10, 2015 12:45 pm

Even after a full year of being able to purchase recreational marijuana, questions still remain for the state of Colorado. Is cannabis use dangerous? Should there be tighter labeling on pot edibles? Is easy access impacting middle and high school students?

Recent data compiled by the Department of Education and Rocky Mountain PBS I-News show incidents of student drug use in 2014 hitting a 10-year high, but state officials don't have a clear picture if the increased drug use and marijuana legalization are related.

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POLITICS
8:58 am
Tue February 3, 2015

'Death with Dignity' To Be Debated At The Colorado Legislature

State of Colorado

Originally published on Fri February 27, 2015 3:15 pm

Democratic lawmakers in Colorado recently introduced a measure to allow terminally ill patients to take medication to end their lives. The patients must be given a prognosis from two different physicians giving them less than six months to live.

It's a charged issue that has many questions to it. Why do supporters say it’s the compassionate choice? Who strongly opposes it?

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POLITICS
4:41 pm
Tue January 27, 2015

Tempers Flare Over GOP Moves In Committee At The Statehouse

Colorado Senate GOP Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Mon January 26, 2015 7:02 am

Colorado's new Republican Senate has majority flexed their muscles at the state capitol, using their power on the Joint Budget Committee to defund a 2013 law allowing people in the country illegally to obtain a state driver's license. They also struck down a bill to harmonize Colorado's civil unions law with a gay marriage ban that was deemed unconstitutional by the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. On top of that, a commission looking at pay equity between men and women was struck down.

With split legislative control and Democrats in charge of the House, how will this impact both parties politically?

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POLITICS
4:30 pm
Tue January 20, 2015

Breaking Down The Gov's State Of The State

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon January 19, 2015 8:52 am

Governor John Hickenlooper has given his annual State of the State Address in front of a joint session of the General Assembly. What were some of the highlights of his annual report on Colorado's prospects? What should we expect in the year ahead?

We asked some of the reporters that work daily in the capitol building for their thoughts.

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POLITICS
11:27 am
Mon January 19, 2015

Hickenlooper On His Second Term, 'It Is A Pivot Point'

State of Colorado

Originally published on Fri January 16, 2015 12:49 pm

Governor John Hickenlooper gave his annual State of the State Address in front of a joint session of the General Assembly Thursday. In the speech the governor spoke of his upcoming policies, initiatives, budget proposals and some looming state challenges.

So what does it all mean for the year ahead?

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POLITICS
9:21 pm
Thu January 15, 2015

State Of The State Is 'Strong' As Hickenlooper Outlines 2015 Plans

Stephen Butler Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Thu January 15, 2015 6:38 pm

Governor John Hickenlooper received a warm reception from lawmakers in both parties during his annual State of the State Address. The Governor talked about policies he wants the legislature to adopt, announced a few new initiatives and urged lawmakers to face facts about the challenges facing Colorado.

During his roughly 45-minute speech Hickenlooper highlighted many of his budget proposals, such as giving more money to higher education and K-12 schools. He also pledged to look at ways to creatively fund roads and bridges, and threw his support behind a felony DUI law. Colorado is one of four states without one.

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POLITICS
3:04 pm
Wed January 14, 2015

Bill Seeking Compensation In Response To Oil And Gas Bans Floated At The Statehouse

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Wed January 14, 2015 2:53 pm

While oil and gas development is a hot topic, state legislators are waiting for a report from the Governor's Oil and Gas Task Force, mostly holding off on introducing energy related bills. The task force is charged with crafting recommendations to help mitigate the impacts of drilling to communities, and harmonize local and state regulations.

"I have told some members of the task force, you don't have to send something if there's not a problem," said Senator Jerry Sonnenberg (R-Sterling). "I want to know before you send me a solution, the problem we're trying to fix. And if you can't agree on a problem, don't send me legislation just because you're a task force."

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POLITICS
9:41 am
Wed January 14, 2015

Governor Hickenlooper Sworn In For Second Term

John Hickenlooper Facebook

Originally published on Wed January 14, 2015 8:20 am

Governor John Hickenlooper was sworn into office Tuesday for his second term, with the ceremony taking place outside the west steps of the state capitol. Several hundred people gathered to watch Hickenlooper along with other statewide elected officials take the oath of office.

"I believe that if we are willing to compromise and collaborate on what may seem like an imperfect solution, it is far better than if we cling to entrenched positions and work against one another in pursuit of different allegedly perfect solutions," said Hickenlooper. "Progress, even if incremental, is better than gridlock."

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POLITICS
10:02 am
Thu January 8, 2015

Let The Season Begin, The 2015 Colorado Legislature Is Now Open

Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs) is holding outgoing speaker of the house Mark Ferrandino's (D-Denver) bedazzled gavel. Former Senate President Morgan Carroll (D-Aurora) gave it to Cadman as a joke.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Fri January 9, 2015 10:50 am

One hundred lawmakers from across Colorado converged on the state capitol Wednesday for opening day of the annual 120 day legislative session. Freshman lawmakers from both parties were officially sworn in and both chambers have new leaders.

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POLITICS
10:13 am
Mon January 5, 2015

With Split Control, DelGrosso Hopes This Legislature Will Be 'More Collaborative'

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon January 5, 2015 7:49 am

When the seventieth session of the Colorado General Assembly convenes Jan. 7, 2015 the balance of power at the capitol will have shifted - slightly. Republicans now have control of the state Senate, but they are still in the minority in the House.

Republican Brian DelGrosso of Loveland has been the minority leader for the previous two years and was re-elected to continue that role in the 2015 session.

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POLITICS
10:11 am
Mon January 5, 2015

Dem's Focus For 2015 Colorado Legislature? 'Jobs And Economy'

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Mon January 5, 2015 7:47 am

When the seventieth session of the Colorado General Assembly convenes Jan. 7, 2015 there will a new speaker of the house. The previous leader in the Colorado House last session was Democrat Mark Ferrandino of Denver. He was term-limited. Dickey Lee Hullinghorst , a Democrat from Boulder, will be the next speaker of the house.

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POLITICS
10:09 am
Mon January 5, 2015

As State Senate Changes Hands, Top Dem Seeks A 'Productive And Collaborative Session'

Ken Lund Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Mon January 5, 2015 7:44 am

When the seventieth session of the Colorado General Assembly convenes Jan. 7, 2015 there will be a change of control in order in the state Senate. The previous November election shepherded the Republicans into the majority, while the state House of Representatives remains in the hand of the Democrats.

The new session also means a change for Democratic state Senator Morgan Carroll of Aurora. She's going from senate president to minority leader.

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