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.

A proposal to study whether passenger rail is viable along the Front Range has cleared the State Senate. It now heads to the House.

91.5 KRCC

Colorado is roughly a third of the way through the four-month long legislative session. John Frank, a reporter for The Denver Post, and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to take stock of the big issues this session.

COLORADO SENATE REPUBLICANS

A Colorado newspaper is fighting claims that it peddles fake news stories. The publisher of Grand Junction's Daily Sentinel is accusing a state lawmaker of defamation and threatening a lawsuit. If filed, legal experts said it would be the first of its kind, potentially setting a legal definition for what is considered fake news and what is not.

A news outlet publishes a story that a Republican politician dismisses as "fake news." Sounds familiar, right?

But in this case, there's a twist. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in Colorado is accusing state Sen. Ray Scott of defamation and threatening to sue. If filed, legal experts said it would be the first suit of its kind, potentially setting a legal definition for what is considered fake news and what is not.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

In the last decade, Democrats have attempted to repeal Colorado's death penalty four times. Their latest attempt on Feb. 15 was amid contentious debate.

John Suthers State of the City 2016 / Colorado Springs

UPDATE: 2/16/17. The Senate Finance committee passed SB-153 on a 4-1 vote. The bill now heads to the full Senate.

Original post 2/14/17:

A proposal to study whether it's viable to create passenger rail from southern Colorado to Fort Collins has cleared its first hurdle at the state legislature.

91.5 KRCC

A proposal to repeal Colorado's healthcare exchange and move to the federal program has prompted a lot of debate at the State Capitol. It has also set off a larger fight about the future of the Affordable Care Act.

President Trump’s battle with the media doesn’t show any signs of letting up. But, in Colorado, Republicans hope divisive rhetoric doesn’t impede their ability to get their message out. They’ve come up with something very un-Trump -- a model they say will improve their relationship with the media. 

“We really want to be more open and inclusive,” said Senate Majority Leader Chris Holbert. He has started doing something old school -- something the president had been criticized for not doing enough of. He and the Senate president are holding weekly briefings with the press. That’s also something his predecessor in Colorado didn’t do. And the Senate GOP plans to hold its first ever off-the-record happy hour with reporters.   

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

In the midst of an ongoing national fight about the future of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, a measure to replace Colorado's health care exchange is igniting passion in Denver. On Feb. 7, people rallied outside the state capitol to protest repealing the Affordable Care Act, while in the capitol, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 3, known as the 'Repeal Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Bill.'

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Law enforcement officers in Colorado would be required to be U.S. citizens under a new measure that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6.

Federal law allows states to require citizenship for certain jobs, and committee Republicans think that being a police officer should be one of them. Right now, officers and sheriffs can be legal permanent residents — otherwise known as green card holders.

John Suthers State of the City 2016 / Colorado Springs

Among balancing the budget and finding money for transportation projects, lawmakers will decide if creating a passenger rail line along Colorado's Front Range—from southern Colorado to Fort Collins—is worth a look.   

91.5 KRCC

Lawmakers in both parties are trying to make it more difficult for homeowners to sue condo developers over construction defects. They hope it will lead to more condo development and lower rents. But despite widespread support for the concept, legislation hasn't been able to pass in previous years.

For this week's Capitol Conversation, we talked about the issue with Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal.

Debate among Colorado lawmakers got heated on Tuesday during consideration of a symbolic measure to denounce President Trump’s executive order temporarily barring refugees entry into the United States.

The measure, considered in the Democrat-controlled House, ultimately passed by a voice vote. Some Republicans said privately that they felt stung by statements made ahead of the vote by Rep. Joe Salazar, a Democrat from Thornton. Salazar chided Republicans for not backing the measure – House Joint Resolution 1013 – accusing them of supporting civil rights when it is politically expedient. 

91.5 KRCC

It is unclear how the Trump administration's freezing of grants and awards from the Environmental Protection Agency will impact programs in Colorado.

We talked with Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com and Luke Perkins from the Durango Herald about how politicians are reacting—and working together—in the face of potential funding losses.

More Gun Training in Schools Advances

Jan 26, 2017

A measure that would encourage schools to offer  additional training for security guards, and pave the way for more teachers to have guns in schools cleared its first committee on Jan. 24.

During the opening days of the 2017 Colorado legislative session, lawmakers and the governor outlined their priorities for the good of the people in the centennial state. But are elected officials in line with your priorities and concerns?  We asked Coloradans from across the state to weigh in.

Coloradans hope politicians work together

Lawmakers have introduced the first set of bills of the legislative session-over 200 so far. As part of our capitol conversation series, Kristen Wyatt with the Associated Press and Joey Bunch with ColoradoPolitics.com talk about what proposals stood out to them.

Thousands of people gathered in Denver on a sunny, crisp Saturday in January for a planned rally. Many in the crowd, made up of about 80 percent women, held up signs such as “Lets [sic] Make America Smart Again,” “We Shall Overcomb,”  “Build Bridges Not Walls” and “We need a leader not a tweeter.”

KIRK SIEGLER / KUNC

The first few days of Colorado's 2017 legislative session provided glimpses into the next few months as legislative leaders and the governor outlined their plans and priorities.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered one of his last State of the State addresses to the Colorado legislature on Jan. 12. He didn't delve into specifics, but instead talked broadly about policy, including infrastructure investment and potential health care reform.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Opening day at Colorado's Capitol may be largely procedural, but legislative leaders take the opportunity to set the tone for the year. Thirty-two of the state's 100 lawmakers are newly elected, but the makeup of the chambers is largely the same as it was last year. Republicans still control the Senate and Democrats have a majority in the House.

Hickenlooper file photo

Governor John Hickenlooper is entering his second to last legislative session as governor. He said he's very aware of his time in office being limited, and that colored his discussion of his goals for the upcoming legislative session.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Democratic Sen. Lucia Guzman, representing Denver in District 34, is the only legislative leader returning to her role, but it's something she didn't expect. Guzman said Democrats fully anticipated winning the majority in the Senate, but after the November election they are still one seat shy. The GOP holds a 18-17 seat advantage.

Courtesy of Kevin Grantham

Republican Sen. Kevin Grantham will lead the state Senate in 2017, where his party held onto its one-seat majority. Grantham is from Cañon City and represents District 2.  He says he's the first rural senate president in over four decades.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Republican Patrick Neville is only serving his second term in office, but he recently rose to the highest position in his caucus--House Minority Leader. Neville's selection comes as a surprise; Rep. Polly Lawrence, who has served in the legislature since 2012, was considered the heir apparent.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Democratic Representative Crisanta Duran will serve as the top lawmaker in the state House of Representatives next session, leading the 65-member chamber as speaker of the house. She will also be the first Latina to serve in that role in state history.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

With increasing populations and out-of-state travelers, there are more drivers on Colorado's roads than ever before. Shailen Bhatt, executive director of the Colorado Department of Transportation, shared some important takeaways on the new reality for Colorado motorists unless more money is found to fix roads and bridges, and build new road projects.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

A state court ruled on Dec. 13 that Colorado's nine presidential electors must vote for the winner of the popular vote in Colorado, Hillary Clinton. The court also said if a presidential elector fails to vote for Clinton, that elector would be removed and replaced.  

Two members of Colorado’s Electoral College filed a lawsuit (PDF) in federal court on Dec. 6 in an effort to unseat President-elect Donald Trump. The suit challenges laws that require Electoral College members in 29 states to vote for candidates that won the popular vote in their states.  

Studies show that youth spend less than ten minutes a day outside in unstructured play.  In an effort to combat this national issue, Great Outdoors Colorado has awarded roughly $13 million in grants to communities across the state, to encourage children to appreciate, enjoy and take care of the great outdoors.

The Inspire Initiative, launched last year with six pilot projects, ties into the state plan of having every resident within a ten-minute walk or bike ride to a park or open space within a generation.

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