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. 

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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?

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?

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.

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?

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.

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."

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."

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.

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.

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.

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.

On this week's Local Motion we are showcasing the regional reporting by the KVNF news team. We'll hear stories from Laura Palmisano, Jake Ryan and Bente Birkeland. They report on the struggles volunteer fire departments face, groundwater monitoring in the North Fork Valley, Colorado's spruce beetle epidemic, the proposed physician-assisted suicide bill, domestic violence, and solar energy.

Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled a draft of the state's first ever water plan Wednesday. The goal of the plan - a decade in the making - is to create a comprehensive water strategy to protect rural farm economies and bring more water to millions of people along the Front Range.

"Water is too important for bickering and potential failure. It demands collaborations," said James Eklund, Director of the Colorado Water Conservation Board, which drafted the proposal. "This plan sets the stage for us to take the necessary next steps."

Colorado's state capitol is getting a major upgrade. A two-year renovation of the building's signature gold dome is complete and on the inside, work is underway on both the House and Senate chambers. Just like any remodeling project, some interesting surprises have been uncovered along the way.

Governor John Hickenlooper has apologized on behalf of the state of Colorado for the Sand Creek Massacre. The Massacre happened the morning of Nov. 29, 1864 as cavalrymen known as the Colorado Volunteers converged on a sleeping group of mostly women, children and elderly Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. The 150-year-old event is one of the most notable incidents of violence against Native Americans in the history of the west.

This fall, the highly publicized death of Brittany Maynard, a 29-year-old with terminal brain cancer who decided to end her life, brought the "right to die" movement a lot of attention.

Anne Singer, campaigns communications manager at the group Compassion and Choices, which advocates for death with dignity, as it is sometimes called, said the public response has been astonishing.

"Nothing like this has ever happened to our organization before. Our website crashed…the momentum is definitely picking up."

The Bureau of Land Management, environmentalists, and the energy industry have reached an agreement on a proposal to drill for oil and gas on the Roan Plateau. The new plan cancels 17 out of 19 oil and gas leases that were issued in 2008. Two previous leases at the top of the plateau, and a dozen at the base will remain in place.

"These measures allow us to protect the plateau but harness some of the energy resources," said Governor John Hickenlooper.

Colorado incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper has been re-elected to a second term.

By 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning, some 12 and half hours after the polls closed, multiple media organizations including The Denver Post were projecting the win over Republican challenger Bob Beauprez with votes left to count in Boulder and Denver counties. The win is the largest for Democrats in the state following strong Republican victories, notably in the U.S. Senate with Cory Gardner defeating incumbent Senator Mark Udall.


With early voting well underway, Colorado's gubernatorial candidates staked out their positions one last time during at their eighth and final debate Friday. Hosted by CBS Denver 4 and Colorado Public Television, the topics were rather routine - except for the issue of public safety. That's where things got heated.

Latinos make up about twenty percent of Colorado's population and continue to be a highly courted voting bloc. It's a group that more frequently votes for Democrats, but Latinos also turn out less often in midterm elections like 2014.

Republicans have long been trying to make inroads with Latino voters – especially in competitive states like Colorado – where a small number of votes could swing key races for the U.S. Senate and Governor.

One of this November's statewide ballot questions may look familiar to Coloradans. For the third time since 2008 voters will decide the fate of an amendment dealing with the issue of personhood. This time around supporters are taking a different approach.

Amendment 67 would change the state's criminal code and wrongful death act to include the term "unborn human beings" when referring to a "person" or "child."

While much of the attention the 2014 election season has been focused on Colorado's Senate and gubernatorial races, voters will also be deciding the fates of four statewide ballot questions. One of those questions seeks to expand gambling at racetracks to help fund K-12 education.

If approved, Amendment 68 would allow horse race tracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties to offer slot machines, roulette, craps, and card games such as blackjack and poker. Arapahoe Park in Aurora is at the center of the campaign.

After four years in office Governor John Hickenlooper is facing the toughest campaign of his political career. A recent poll from The Denver Post shows his race against Republican former Congressman Bob Beauprez statistically tied. What's more, Beauprez is also making gains on Hickenlooper in the Denver metro area and in rural Colorado.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez is facing a close race against Governor John Hickenlooper in his gubernatorial bid. Back in 2006, he made several missteps in his campaign for governor, but in this 2014 run he's run a much tighter ship.