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 / 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.   

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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. 

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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.

One of the first items on President-elect Donald Trump’s to-do list when he takes office will be to nominate a Supreme Court justice. While campaigning, Trump released a list of possible nominees, which included three judges from Colorado: Chief Judge Timothy Michael Tymkovich and Judge Neil McGill Gorsuch, both serving on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Justice Allison Hartwell Eid of the Colorado Supreme Court. 

Nationally, the election of Donald Trump as the nation’s 45th president has many wondering about what comes next. In Colorado, the balance of power remains the same. State lawmakers are moving forward with their November calendar - mapping out their priorities for the upcoming legislative session - while trying to figure out what the new congress and administration will mean for state policies.

While Colorado favored Hillary Clinton, Donald Trump became president in the election. The bitter division over the future of the country didn’t stop Colorado voters from returning establishment candidates to Washington.

Democrat Michael Bennet held onto his U.S. Senate seat, giving an impassioned acceptance speech that promised to end the familiar acrimony of today’s politics.

As Election Day nears, television ads for Colorado’s senate candidates are blanketing the airwaves. Despite that, the campaigns of incumbent Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County Commissioner, have been relatively quiet. Both have been criticized for not holding more debates.

Bennet has refused to participate in several debates including one hosted by the Pueblo Chieftain, while Glenn turned down a debate hosted by The Denver Post.

While the presidential race has taken up a lot of attention, local elections in Colorado deserve some time in the spotlight.  In the state legislature, Democrats hold a three-seat majority in the House, and Republicans have a one-seat majority in the Senate.

Matt Larson is in his mid-thirties and already concerned about what will happen at the end of his life. A year ago, he was diagnosed with brain cancer. It was treated, but there’s a 50 percent chance it could return. If it does, he wonders at what point he would want to die. In November, Colorado voters will decide whether terminally-ill patients can legally end their lives.

Flickr User: Pictures of Money / Creative Commons

Progressives have long fought for a single-payer health care system. The question as to whether Colorado should create one is on this November's ballot.

The supporters of Amendment 69, also known as ColoradoCare, say their system would be better than the current one created through Obamacare. It would be cheaper, they say, and ensure that no person is left without coverage. Opponents say the system is a massive tax hike that is not sustainable.

The one thing both sides agree on is that the current system is not working for everyone.

Colorado’s major party U.S. Senate candidates held their only televised debate of the election on Tuesday night – but it was disrupted by minor party supporters.  About two dozen Green Party supporters stood outside the History Colorado Museum in Denver where the debate was held, pounding on the glass doors for 60 minutes. The noise was clearly a distraction for the audience and for incumbent Michael Bennet, a Democrat, and El Paso County Commissioner Daryl Glenn, his Republican challenger.

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