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.

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

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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.

Newscast for Tuesday, August 25, 2015, 5:32 PM:

Newscast for Thursday, August 20, 2015, 5:32 PM:

  • According to a new state study, Colorado has a significant shortage of hospital beds for people suffering from mental illness and has increased needs for people behind bars.
     
  • A 3.9 magnitude earthquake shook Las Animas County last night, with an epicenter about 24 miles west of Trinidad.

Newscast for Wednesday, August 19, 2015:

  • Business groups in Colorado are urging state regulators to finalize oil and gas rules recommended by a task force created by the Governor.
     
  • The La Plata County Sheriff's Office is releasing more information in the case of Dylan Redwine, the Monument 13-year-old who disappeared in 2012.
     

Newscast for Tuesday, 8/18/15, 5:32 PM:

  • Several school superintendents came to the state capitol on Monday to talk about the challenges of preparing young children for kindergarten.
     
  • Colorado lawmakers are starting to quantify the state's racial profiling by law enforcement in the aftermath of high-profile clashes between the public and officers around the nation.
     

Newscast for Monday, 8/17/15, 5:32 PM:

  • Some business groups in Colorado are raising concerns over an Environmental Protection Agency proposal to update air quality standards, which includes lowering the threshold for ground level ozone.
     
  • Colorado native Taylor Phinney has won the opening stage of the USA Pro Challenge.

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.

Bente Birkeland

Dan Haley is the new executive director of the state's largest oil and gas industry trade group, the Colorado Oil and Gas Association. He began the position on June 1st. His background is in media and journalism. He spent 20 years as a journalist and editor, serving as the editorial page editor at the Denver Post. He then joined the private sector as a media consultant.
 

Interview Highlights with Dan Haley:

On How his Media Background will help him lead the industry in Colorado.

Newscast for Thursday, 7/23/15, 5:32 PM:

  • A committee of state lawmakers studying water issues is wrapping up a tour in Durango, Montrose and Craig this week. The goal is to hear from local communities about the Colorado water plan and other water issues. Bente Birkeland has more.
     
  • High winds have caused the closure of some recreational areas on National Forest land in Douglas County.
     

Newscast for Tuesday, 7/21/15, 5:32 PM:

  • A burned American flag was discovered on a statue in front of Colorado Springs City Hall.
     
  • Vice President Joe Biden toured a manufacturing center at the Community College of Denver today. Bente Birkeland reports.
     

Current and former Colorado state Democratic lawmakers are praising the U.S. Supreme Court's decision legalizing same sex marriage nationwide. In the 5-4 decision, the court ruled that same-sex couples have a right to marry under the 14th Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.

"Today is an amazing day for America and equality, said Democratic former Speaker of the House Mark Ferrandino, who served as Colorado’s first gay speaker and helped pass a bill to make civil unions legal in the state.

"I knew we would get to this day in my life time, but never thought it would come so quickly. I am so proud of our nation's ability to move towards full equality for all people. The work is not done to end all discrimination but today was a gigantic step forward."

Despite state lawmakers failing to pass a bill to fund the effort, a program to provide long acting reversible birth control to young, low-income women in Colorado is being extended for another year.

The long acting contraceptives, according to state figures, have helped cut teen pregnancy rates in the state by 40 percent. Abortions have gone down too.

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It's been more than a month since Colorado lawmakers wrapped up their annual legislative session at the state capitol, but the work is far from over. Many of the bills that failed this year will likely be back next year, and some long-standing issues may already be poised to go before voters in 2016.

"I've worked on issues that have taken a couple of years to get through," said Representative Don Coram (R-Montrose).

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The Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously on Monday that companies can legally fire employees for using medical marijuana, even off duty.

The decision is based on the case of Brandon Coats. He is a quadriplegic who takes medical marijuana to control muscle spasms in his legs. Dish Network fired him from his job as a customer service representative in 2010 after he failed a random drug test. Coats then sued for unlawful termination. Business groups praised the court's decision.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

After a mild and wet spring, temperatures along the Front Range are expected to soar this week and that has fire managers on edge. The Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture are using this lull in the fire season to call for changes in how the federal government funds wildfire suppression.

While Colorado has experienced much needed rain, fire officials are still expecting an average fire season.

The deadline for bills that passed during the state's legislative session to become law or get vetoed was Friday. Measures are either signed by the Governor or become law without his signature. Some proposals have large signing ceremonies, while others are done quietly. Bente Birkeland talks to state capitol reporters about some of the measures.
 

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A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for shootings, deaths, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds was signed into law on Wednesday. Previously schools had absolute immunity.

The law would cap damages at $900,000 for multiple injuries per incident. Governor Hickenlooper says the state has experienced its fair share of tragedies in schools and hopes the law will make students safer.

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Energy development is always a hot topic at the statehouse, but 2015 was oddly quiet. Even with recommendations from a task force studying the issue, state lawmakers did little this past session where oil and gas drilling is concerned. As a result, some of the more long-standing issues as local control and public health concerns are still simmering.

The Bureau of Land Management and the U.S. Forest Service has announced a new plan to protect the greater sage grouse from extinction, while hoping to prevent the bird from being added to the endangered species list.

The sage grouse population has dropped from 16 million birds to less than half a million, mainly due to lost sagebrush habitat. The bird's range spans 11 western states including Colorado.

"As land managers of two-thirds of greater sage grouse habitat, we have a responsibility to take action that ensures a bright future for wildlife and a thriving western economy," said Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell at the announcement in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Governor John Hickenlooper joined the head of the Department of Human Services in their first public appearance together since lawmakers called for Hickenlooper to overhaul the department, and possibly fire the executive director. 
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

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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The Colorado Department of Transportation Commission voted unanimously to approve $1 million to help preserve the Southwest Chief rail line in southern Colorado. It's part of a route that stretches from Chicago to Los Angeles.

The aging track needs major upgrades or Amtrak will have to reroute the line out of Colorado and parts of New Mexico and Kansas. The train stops in Lamar, La Junta and Trinidad, in southeastern Colorado.

Colorado’s state legislature wrapped up its work on Wednesday. Lawmakers covered a host of topics during their four months under gold dome. It was also the first session since Republicans re-gained controlled of the state senate. Bente Birkeland talks to reporters about the session as part of our capitol conversation series.
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

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 midnight deadline Wednesday night.
 

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A bill to raise the salaries of state lawmakers and other elected officials quietly made its way through the state house in the final days of the legislative session. It passed on the last day of the session clearing 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.

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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 drunk driving offenders. It passed the Senate 34-1.

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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