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.

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Even after a full year of being able to purchase recreational marijuana – questions still remain for the state of Colorado. Is its use dangerous, should there be tighter labeling on pot edibles – and is its easy access impacting middle and high school students? Recent data compiled by the Department of Education and Rocky Mountain PBS I-News show incidents of student drug use last year hitting a ten-year high, but state officials don’t have a clear picture if the two are related.

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Democratic lawmakers in Colorado recently introduced a measure to allow terminally ill patients to take medication to end their lives. The patients must be given a prognosis from two different physicians giving them less than six months to live.

Why do supporters say it’s the compassionate choice?

Who strongly opposes it?

Bente Birkeland discusses the proposal with statehouse reporters.

Some key points from the conversation:

Precautions in Place

Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press

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A bill to require background checks for volunteers and employees of youth sports clubs failed to pass the Senate Judiciary Committee Wednesday. Opponents said the measure had too many gaps in it. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

In Colorado, roughly 6 million children play in youth sports clubs, ranging from soccer and baseball to swimming and basketball.  Supporters say these sports clubs attract sexual predators because of lax standards.

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A bill to allow terminally ill patients to take their own lives was introduced at the state capitol Tuesday. Supporters say they want to give patients an option to die with dignity.
 

House Bill 1135 [.pdf] would let people who have less than six months to live take a prescription to die. 

D. Utterback

Colorado’s new Republican Senate majority flexed their muscles last week at the state capitol. They used their power on the joint budget committee to defund a 2013 law allowing people in the country illegally to obtain a state driver’s license. They also struck down a bill to harmonize Colorado’s civil unions law with a gay marriage ban that was deemed unconstitutional by the 10th circuit court of appeals. They also struck down a commission looking pay equity between men and women.

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Republicans at the state capitol defeated a bill on Wednesday that sought to clean up and harmonize the state’s civil unions and gay marriage laws. Lawmakers said they wanted to wait and see how the U.S. Supreme Court rules on the issue this summer. Bente Birkeland has more.
 

 

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Governor John Hickenlooper gave his annual State of the State Address in front of a joint session of the General Assembly Thursday. 
 

Capitol Conversation Highlights

What stood out in Address

 Ed Sealover- Denver Business Journal

Colorado.gov

Governor John Hickenlooper said he was intentionally vague at times during his annual state of the state address, which he delivered to the legislature on Thursday. He recently sat down to discuss his speech and what it means for the year ahead with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland.

Interview highlights:
 

Governor Hickenlooper on the Constitutional Conflicts between TABOR, Amendment 23 and Gallagher

Governor John Hickenlooper received a warm reception from lawmakers in both parties during his annual State of the State Address. The Governor talked about policies he wants the legislature to adopt, announced a few new initiatives and urged lawmakers to face facts about the challenges facing Colorado.

During his roughly 45-minute speech Hickenlooper highlighted many of his budget proposals, such as giving more money to higher education and K-12 schools. He also pledged to look at ways to creatively fund roads and bridges, and threw his support behind a felony DUI law. Colorado is one of four states without one.

State lawmakers are mostly holding off on introducing energy related bills this session. While oil and gas development is a hot topic, legislators are waiting for a report from the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force. The task force is holding meetings this week in Greeley and is charged with crafting recommendations to help mitigate the impacts of drilling to communities and harmonize local and state regulations. The group has held hearings across the state and the final meeting is next month.

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Governor John Hickenlooper was sworn into office Tuesday for his second term. The ceremony took place on a chilly morning outside the west steps of the state capitol. Several hundred people gathered to watch Hickenlooper along with other statewide elected officials take the oath of office.
 

D. Utterback

Colorado’s legislative session opened last week. As part of our Capitol Conversation series, statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland discusses the beginning of the session with other political reporters, and touches on some of the bills that were introduced during opening week.

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One hundred lawmakers from across Colorado converged on the state capitol Wednesday for opening day of the annual legislative session. Freshman lawmakers from both parties were officially sworn in and both chambers which have new leaders.

Much of the day’s attention was focused on the Senate, where Republicans gained the majority for the first time in a decade. For all their gains, newly elected senate president Bill Cadman [R- Colorado Springs] gave a rather subdued speech – talking less about policy and more on building trust and civility among lawmakers.

Colorado General Assembly

In a series of interviews with legislative leaders, statehouse correspondent Bente Birkeland discusses the upcoming legislative session and the change of control in the state Senate. Morgan Carroll [D-Aurora] is going from senate president to minority leader.  
 

Morgan Carroll on Republicans gaining control of the state Senate

Colorado General Assembly

Dickey Lee Hullinghorst [D-Boulder] will be the next speaker of the House. She discusses her priorities and her party’s agenda for the session, as a part of a series of interviews with legislative leaders.

Dickey Lee Hullinghorst discusses the Governor’s Oil and Gas Task Force

Colorado General Assembly

House minority leader Brian DelGrosso [R-Loveland] discusses his thoughts on the upcoming legislative session as part of a series of interviews with legislative leaders. DelGrosso was the minority leader for the last two years, and his party made gains in the house last November to narrow the Democratic majority.

DelGrosso on Spilt Legislative Control

 
State lawmakers return to the capitol for the annual legislative session on Wednesday, January 7th. Bente Birkeland gets a preview of what to expect as part of our Capitol Conversation series.
 

Governor John Hickenlooper unveiled a draft of the state’s first ever water plan on Wednesday. The goal is to create a comprehensive water strategy to protect rural farm economies and bring more water to millions of people along the Front Range.The plan has been a decade in the making and supporters say it will help the state meet water demands as the population grows.
 

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Colorado is one of several states that will take up the issue of physician-assisted suicide. The topic is once again in the national spotlight with the recent death of Brittany Maynard. The terminally ill 29 year-old moved to Oregon to take advantage of that state’s Death with Dignity law.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado’s state capitol is getting a major upgrade. A two-year renovation of the building’s signature gold dome was recently completed – and on the inside, work is underway on both the House and Senate chambers. As with any remodeling project, workers have uncovered some interesting surprises along the way.
 

The state capitol opened in 1894 and several restoration projects have been undertaken since then. The most recent work began because of a radiator…

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Governor John Hickenlooper has apologized on behalf of the state of Colorado for the Sand Creek Massacre. The Massacre happened in the early morning of November 29th, 1864.  U.S. Calvary soldiers converged on a sleeping group of mostly women, children and elderly Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. The 150 year-old event is one of the most notable incidents of violence against Native Americans in the history of the west.
 

The Bureau of Land Management, environmentalists, and the energy industry have reached an agreement on a proposal to drill for oil and gas on the Roan Plateau. The new plan cancels 17 out of 19 oil and gas leases that were issued in 2008. Two previous leases at the top of the plateau, and a dozen at the base will remain in place.

"These measures allow us to protect the plateau but harness some of the energy resources," said Governor John Hickenlooper.

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Colorado's statehouse will have divided control in January. Republicans gained a one-seat majority in the state senate, while Democrats held onto their house majority. Bente Birkeland talks to statehouse reporters about what that means for some key issues lawmakers hope to tackle.
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Democratic incumbent Governor John Hickenlooper narrowly won re-election after a race that was too close to call on Tuesday night. Hickenlooper faced off against former Congressman, Republican Bob Beauprez. It’s the second time Beauprez has lost the Governorship. Democratic Bill Ritter defeated him in 2006 by a much wider margin of double digits.

Many pundits were surprised at the intensity of the race, which was a nail biter until the end. The race wasn’t called by major news outlets until about 9:30am, more than twelve hours after polls closed.

With early voting well underway Colorado’s gubernatorial candidates staked out their positions one last time during their 8th and final debate hosted by KCNC channel 4 and Colorado Public Television last Friday night. Among the routine topics – things got heated over the issue of public safety.
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Latinos make up about twenty percent of Colorado’s population and continue to be a highly courted voting bloc during this election. It’s a group that more frequently votes for Democrats, but Latinos also turn out less often in midterm elections, and both political parties face challenges in attracting them.
 

Republicans have long been trying to make inroads with Latino voters, especially in competitive states like Colorado, where a small number of votes could swing key races for the U.S. Senate and Governor.

One of this November’s statewide ballot questions may look familiar to Coloradans. For the third time since 2008, voters will decide the fate of an amendment dealing with the issue of personhood. But this time around supporters are taking a different approach.
 

Amendment 67 would change the state’s criminal code and wrongful death act to include the term “unborn human beings” when referring to a “person” or “child.” Backers say it stems from the 2012 case of Heather Surovik, who shares her testimonial on the Personhood USA website…

While much of the attention the 2014 election season has been focused on Colorado's Senate and gubernatorial races, voters will also be deciding the fates of four statewide ballot questions. One of those questions seeks to expand gambling at racetracks to help fund K-12 education.

If approved, Amendment 68 would allow horse race tracks in Arapahoe, Mesa and Pueblo counties to offer slot machines, roulette, craps, and card games such as blackjack and poker. Arapahoe Park in Aurora is at the center of the campaign.

After four years in office Governor John Hickenlooper is facing the toughest campaign of his political career. A recent poll from The Denver Post shows his race against Republican former Congressman Bob Beauprez statistically tied. What's more, Beauprez is also making gains on Hickenlooper in the Denver metro area and in rural Colorado.

Former Republican Congressman Bob Beauprez is facing a close race against Governor John Hickenlooper in his gubernatorial bid. Back in 2006, he made several missteps in his campaign for governor, but in this 2014 run he's run a much tighter ship.

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