Bente Birkeland

Bente Birkeland has covered Colorado politics and government since spring of 2006. She loves the variety and challenge of the state capitol beat and talking to people from all walks of life. Bente's work has aired on NPR's Morning Edition and All Things Considered, American Public Media'sMarketplace, and she was a contributor for WNYC's The Next Big Thing. She has won numerous local and national awards, including best beat reporting from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors. Bente grew up in Minnesota and England, and loves skiing, hiking, and is an aspiring cello player. She lives in Lakewood with her husband.

KRCC

State lawmakers are debating whether terminally ill patients with less than six months to live should be allowed to take medication to end their own lives. It's just one of several controversial bills being debated under the gold dome. 

Dennis McKinney / CO Division of Wildlife

Colorado could be the next state to allow hunters to wear florescent pink. A Democratic proposal to give hunters the option of wearing pink, in addition to orange, passed the Republican controlled Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee on Thursday.

KRCC

Roughly three weeks into Colorado's annual legislative session, a lot of bills are starting to get their first hearings.

Capitol reporter Bente Birkeland talks to other statehouse reporters about the upcoming week and how politics impacts the bills being heard in committees. 

KRCC

Lawmakers have introduced the first wave of bills as part of the annual legislative session. Bente Birkeland talked to statehouse reporters about some of the most interesting pieces of legislation as part of our Capitol Conversation series.
 

Andrea Chalfin / KRCC

Governor John Hickenlooper announced Wednesday that the state will prioritize connecting and building 16 hiking and biking trails in all parts of Colorado. The goal is to connect and build missing trail segments to make it easier for people to access open space and parks.

It's part of the governor's Colorado the Beautiful initiative, unveiled in 2015.

KRCC

Colorado lawmakers are back at the state capitol for the annual legislative session. Bente Birkeland discussed priorities from the Governor and legislative leaders as part of our capitol conversation series.


Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado's annual legislative session began on Wednesday, with the usual pomp and ceremony and opening day speeches. The building had a back to school vibe, with families and friends joining lawmakers in the chamber, as it hummed with activity after the eight month interim. Isaac Slade, the lead singer of the Denver based rock band the Fray, sang the national anthem in the Senate.
 

    

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado is heading into the 2016 annual legislative session next week and state lawmakers will debate a host of topics from energy and water, to the budget and schools. Statehouse Reporter Bente Birkeland discussed the session with House Minority leader Brian DelGrosso [R-Loveland].


Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Speaker of the House Dickey Lee Hullinghorst [D-Boulder] is entering her second year as the leader of the chamber; she is also term limited at the end of the session. As part of our series previewing the legislative session statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland talked to her about her priorities.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Democrats have a one-seat minority in the state senate. They'll also have a new minority leader for the upcoming legislative session. Senate minority leader Lucia Guzman [D-Denver] sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to discuss her new role.
 

Interview Highlights:

On Leading her Caucus

"As a senator I have certain great interests whether it be judiciary or the health of our kids in schools. Now as the minority leader I have to think more broadly. I have to think about the caucus itself," said Guzman.

On Winning Back the Majority

"We also know that we must be very strategic about what we do, how we do it, so that in the long run we are looking towards the future, towards the election, towards the outcome of those elections and hoping they'll be positive to our group," said Guzman.

On Repealing the Death Penalty

"It's been a long term passion of mine, you know my father was murdered, and yet from that very day I continue to think we don't grow as a society by killing people who kill people… I'm not going to bring that bill this year. It goes back to the fact that I'm the minority leader, not an individual Senator," said Guzman.

Colorado General Assembly

Colorado's annual legislative session begins on January 13th. For a series leading up to the session, statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland is sitting down with legislative leaders to discuss their goals and the big issues they must confront.
 


KRCC

Colorado lawmakers are returning to the state capitol next week for the four-month annual legislative session. As part of our Capitol Conversation series, Bente Birkeland talked to statehouse reporters about the national political scene and how it will impact the session.

Andrea Chalfin

"Colorful Colorado" may one day be referred to as "Crowded Colorado" given the number of people expected to move to the Centennial State by 2040. All that growth will take a toll on the state's infrastructure as well as water and other natural resources.

Bente Birkeland/RMCR

The Colorado Supreme Court heard arguments Wednesday on whether local cities in Colorado can either ban hydraulic fracturing or declare a moratorium.

The chamber was filled with a who's who in the energy world, from policy experts and state and city officials, to top attorneys and environmental activists, highlighting the importance of the cases.

Gov. John Hickenlooper announced Monday that Colorado would accept Syrian refugees. President Barack Obama said the U.S. would receive at least 10,000 Syrian refugees within the next year, but a growing list of Republican governors pledged to block refugees from relocating to their states.

"We can protect our security and provide a place where the world's most vulnerable can rebuild their lives," said Hickenlooper in a statement.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Dozens of watch parties were held across the state Wednesday night as the GOP presidential contenders held their third debate at the University of Colorado in Boulder.

At the Epernay Lounge in downtown Denver, business and grass roots Republican groups hosted about 150 people. The crowd mostly consisted of moderate Republicans; many were undecided and had several possibilities for support.
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado will take center stage when the GOP presidential hopefuls hold their third debate, taking place at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders was also recently on campus. CU students said all the activity is engaging younger voters ahead of the 2016 race.
 

Freshman Eliza Leeson is a Humanities major. She was among the roughly nine thousand students who attended the Bernie Sanders rally in Boulder.

Local tax and spending issues, as well as city council and mayoral races largely dominate Colorado's 2015 election. There is only one statewide question, which asks voters whether the state can keep marijuana tax money it's already collected to pay for school construction, law enforcement and other programs.

If that's a question that sounds familiar – that's because it is. Proposition BB will actually be the third time Colorado voters have weighed in on taxing marijuana.

The Republican field to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is still very much up in the air, but some possible contenders have not ruled out entering the race.

Bennet's seat is one of 10 Democratic seats across the nation the party must defend in 2016. So far Republicans do not have a clear front-runner. Bright prospects including Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler have both decided not to run.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado is well known for its outdoor recreation offerings, but Governor John Hickenlooper wants to take it to the next level by making it even easier for people to access open space and parks. Over the summer he unveiled the Colorado the Beautiful Initiative and more recently a $100 million pledge to create and connect bike trails. 

Tom Koerner/USFWS / Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Interior decided on Tuesday that the greater sage grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bird spans eleven western states including Colorado, where it lives in pockets along the western slope.  The population is mostly concentrated in the northwest part of the state. Governor John Hickenlooper was one of the many people working to avoid a federal listing for the bird.  He sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to talk about the decision and other initiatives.

Interview Highlights

Colorado's ban on collecting rain from residential rooftops has been a contentious topic at the statehouse, and a proposed bill for 2016 means it will likely be debated once again.

"Colorado is the only western state where rain barrels are illegal," said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

"Every other western state that has our water laws has them legal, and it has not caused the Earth to come crashing to a halt."

So why is there so much controversy over collecting rainwater? The sticking point is whether doing so impacts downstream water users.

Oil drilling on Colorado's populous Front Range has forced more interactions between communities and the energy industry – and that's caused tension. At the recent annual Rocky Mountain Energy Summit, one of the discussions centered on how to improve relations between the industry and the public.

It's an ongoing issue that the state will tackle in a new rule making hearing.

clipart.com

Colorado has largely been spared from this summer's political wrangling ahead of the 2016 presidential race. But as Republicans nationally are working to narrow the presidential field, the GOP in Colorado wants to widen its field of candidates to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet next year.

"The numbers tell us Senator Bennet is vulnerable," said Republican state party Chairman Steve House. "It would be great to hold onto the U.S. Senate. Republicans have to defend a number of seats more than the Democrats."

Clipart.com

The number of Coloradans who don't have health insurance has dropped by about half since President Barack Obama's signature health care law went into effect. The state's uninsured rate fell from 14.3 percent in 2013 to 6.7 percent in 2015. Not only does the Colorado Access Health Survey say that the uninsured are at a record low, it also finds that more people have enrolled in Medicaid.
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Judge Richard Gabriel will soon be sworn in as Colorado's next State Supreme Court Justice. He currently serves on the Colorado Court of Appeals. He received his undergrad degree at Yale University and went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. He talked to statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland about his view of politics in the judicial process, why he became a lawyer, and some of his significant cases. 

Highlights from the Interview:

On Criticisms that Judges and Decisions are Too Political

clipart.com

Students are heading back to school, but the road to graduation for this year's incoming crop of seniors varies by high school. The reason? Unlike other states, Colorado does not have a set requirement for what it takes to receive a diploma.

Creating a standard is an ongoing debate and one that state lawmakers tried to answer in 2007 and 2008 when they approved legislation requiring a minimum statewide requirement.
 

A program to provide long acting reversible contraceptives to low-income women has been funded for another year. About a dozen health and community foundations have stepped up to provide the funds, something the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had been working overtime to try and secure.

UPDATE:  Without a consensus from the jury between life in prison and the death penalty, James Holmes receives the sentence of life in prison without the  possibility of parole.  

Original Post:

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

A six million dollar project to spiff up the state capitol is almost done. A two-year renovation of the building's signature gold dome is complete and now workers are restoring the inside of both the House and Senate chambers.

Colorado's capitol opened in 1894 and has gone through a few renovations since then. The latest iteration restores the chambers to how they looked at the turn of the century. As you peek in the chambers, you see scaffolding everywhere and behind it, the walls are covered with vibrant color panels and ornate stenciling.

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