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.

91.5 KRCC

State lawmakers return to the capitol on Wednesday and they face a tough political climate. Several members are running for higher office. The makeup in the senate has also changed since last session: two Democrats were recalled for supporting stricter gun laws, and another Democrat resigned rather than face a potential recall election. Bente Birkeland discusses how politics will shape the legislature as part of our ongoing Capitol Conversation series.

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State lawmakers are once again heading into a legislative session following a school shooting. Colorado passed controversial gun laws earlier this year in the wake of the Aurora theatre shooting and the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Bente Birkeland takes a look back at the gun legislation and talks to lawmakers who are taking stock of things.

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Democratic state lawmakers say a new law requiring universal background checks for gun purchases is working well. Data from the Department of Public Safety shows 2% of private gun sales were blocked because of the law.

Seventy-two sales were stopped because the would-be buyer was convicted or charged with a serious crime; such as murder, sexual assault, possession of dangerous drugs and theft. 

Colorado’s energy industry trade group is now involved on three fronts with lawsuits over voter approved fracking bans or moratoriums. The latest move involved the announcement of suits against Lafayette and Fort Collins. 

A lawsuit is already pending against the city of Longmont for a ban approved in 2012. Some in the state say a lawsuit is the wrong way to go.

A new study from the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business shows that it may be difficult to quantify how droughts, fires and floods are impacting the state’s economy over the long term. But it’s safe to say natural disasters are already influencing public policy and are requiring communities to shift their thinking. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

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Colorado’s budget is not structurally sound, according to a new study released yesterday. Economists from Colorado State University say over the long term, the state will spend more money than it receives. As Bente Birkeland reports, the study points to a number of causes.

Colorado’s Energy industry is continuing to make the case that hydraulic fracturing is safe and a critical part of the state’s economy. They’re stepping up efforts following the recent passage of fracking bans and moratoriums in three Front Range communities. The outcome of a ban in Broomfield has yet to be determined.

“Merely the fact that they qualified shows that there’s not enough education out there on these issues,” said Jon Haubert, spokesman for Coloradans for Responsible Energy Development – or CRED.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Theater projectors are going where most of the dazzling special effects in summer blockbusters have gone: All digital. In 2014, Hollywood will no longer release movies on traditional film stock. Theaters must convert or be forced to close – including those in rural Colorado.
 

That’s easier said than done in smaller towns versus a big city cineplex. Colorado is putting up $200,000 to try and save 13 rural movie theaters.

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Less than a year away from the 2014 election, a new poll from Quinnipiac University shows Governor John Hickenlooper edging out his Republican challengers, but as Bente Birkeland reports, reaction is also mixed to some of his policies.

Calling them ‘groundbreaking,’ Governor John Hickenlooper proposed new statewide air quality rules for oil and gas drilling Monday. The rules aim to reduce air pollution from methane emissions.

Colorado Republicans say they’re putting in a bid for the state to host the next Republican National Convention in 2016. As Bente Birkeland reports, planning is still in the early stages and already several western cities are also competing for the chance to host.

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State lawmakers will review proposed bills to deal with water issues, wildfires and poverty today. The measures are the product of months of hearings at the state capitol. Bente Birkeland has more.

91.5 KRCC

Colorado voters support taxing recreational marijuana, but gave a crushing defeat to a proposed billion-dollar tax increase for public schools. In this special election edition of Capitol Conversation, Bente Birkeland analyzes the long- term impacts of the election results with political reporters.

Colorado voters gave a mixed reaction at the ballot box on a pair of statewide tax increases during yesterday’s election. As Bente Birkeland reports, voters didn’t want to tax themselves to pay for education, but were overwhelmingly willing to tax recreational marijuana to help rebuild schools.

Supporters of Amendment 66 waged a vigorous get out the vote campaign flush with outside money from the likes of Bill Gates and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

It wasn’t enough to convince voters to say “yes.”

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A new state committee tasked with studying wildfire issues has wrapped up its work. The bi-partisan group of lawmakers is recommending a tax credit to encourage people to mitigate fire risks and a proposal to give individual counties more authority to cut down hazardous trees. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

A bipartisan committee of 12 Colorado lawmakers will soon meet to examine the state’s response to September’s devastating Front Range floods.

Colorado is preparing for the state’s first recreational marijuana stores to open this January. In the meantime, voters still have the final say on how the new product will be taxed through Proposition AA.

With just over three weeks until the election, the campaign asking Colorado voters to approve a $1 billion tax increase to pay for improvements to public schools are planning what they call a robust door-to-door operation.

Colorado General Assembly

State senate Democrats unanimously elected a new president to lead the chamber next year following the September recall of John Morse. As Bente Birkeland reports, Morgan Carroll will become only the second female senate president in state history.

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Colorado senate Democrats blasted gun rights groups today for trying to recall another state lawmaker. Two Democrats were ousted in September over support for stricter gun laws. The latest campaign targets Westminster Democrat Evie Hudak.
 

A pair of Republican state lawmakers took the oath of office yesterday, after winning historic recall elections last month. Gun control legislation was behind the recall effort. But even with two more Republican Senators at the state capitol, Democrats are still in control of both the House and Senate. Bente Birkeland has more.

During a hearing on water issues late last week, state officials said they’ve inspected 70 percent of the oil and gas wells damaged by recent flooding. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

State tourism officials are in Telluride this week to discuss ways of promoting Colorado. As Bente Birkeland reports, Colorado is coming off a record breaking year for visitors.

Bente Birkeland

In November, voters in several Front Range communities will consider whether to ban or delay fracking. Many of these same areas are also recovering from September's devastating flooding.

There's renewed attention on the fight over fracking thanks to Colorado's flooding. Recent figures show that 12 spills have polluted the South Platte with 37,000 gallons of oil.

Governor John Hickenlooper told local officials this morning that many of the state highways and roads closed due to recent flooding have reopened. But as Bente Birkeland reports there's still a lot more work to do.

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Colorado fire fighters say the state needs to make major changes in order to protect the public from increasingly devastating wildfires. As Bente Birkeland reports, state lawmakers are hoping to tackle the issue during the next legislative session.

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Colorado’s economy is steadily rebounding according to the latest economic forecast. And as Bente Birkeland reports, the pace of recovery is expected to pick up next year.

Colorado has a new chief recovery officer to help oversee rebuilding in the wake of massive floods. Governor John Hickenlooper made the announcement on yesterday, saying the goal is to have state and U.S. highways reconnected by December 1st. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

Colorado Senator Mark Udall pledged to seek full federal support to help restore the state after flood waters devastated parts of the foothills and Front Range. Udall and Senator Michael Bennet both addressed the U.S. Senate yesterday describing efforts on the ground. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.



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Gun rights activists in Colorado are savoring what they call a sweet victory. On Tuesday Democratic Senate president John Morse and Senator Angela Giron were voted out of office for supporting stricter gun laws, in the first legislative recall in state history. As Bente Birkeland reports, the election could change the dynamic under the gold dome.

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