Capitol Coverage

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).

Brett Levin Flickr / Creative Commons

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.

Steve Wilson / Flickr - Creative Commons

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.

The state's annual legislative session adjourns on Wednesday May 6th.  The last few days are hectic as state lawmakers try to push through final bills.  Other bills fail on the calendar or die in committee. 

Peter Marcus of the Durango Herald and Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press sit down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to discuss what's left to do and what measures are dead.

 Peter Marcus of the Durango Herald on reproductive rights legislation:

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A measure to eliminate immunity for public schools for school shootings, death, sexual assaults and other series injuries that happen to students on school grounds cleared the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday. It passed on a vote of 10-3.

Currently public schools are not liable. Legislative leaders in both parties are sponsoring the change, spurred in part by the death of Claire Davis in 2013. Davis attended Arapahoe High School in Littleton when a fellow student shot and killed her before turning the gun on himself.

Two former governors, Roy Romer and Bill Owens, joined current Gov. John Hickenlooper at the state capitol to urge lawmakers not to go too far in reducing the numbers of standardized assessments school children take. This comes as legislators are debating several bills to lower the number of exams.

Republican Bill Owens said it's important to have standards and test against those standards to see if students are learning what they should, and to evaluate schools and teachers.

"Our friends from the left and the right for differing reasons, don't want to test, don't want to measure, don't want to have accountability," said Owens. "This is stunning to me."

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Colorado’s Senate president introduced a fetal homicide bill this week. As written, it would define a person as an unborn human being from conception until birth for the purposes of homicide and assault cases. It’s expected to draw vigorous debate at the statehouse.

Senate Bill 268 [.pdf] would allow prosecutors to file a murder charge if an unborn baby is killed or dies during an assault or murder of the mother.

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UPDATE 04/15/15 - The House passed the bill; it's expected to fail in the Senate.

ORIGINAL POST 04/14/15: Democrats in the House unexpectedly delayed a vote on an American Indian mascot bill after they realized Republicans had enough votes to kill it.  

Steve Wilson / Flickr – Creative Commons

    

UPDATE 04/14/15: The Joint Budget Committee, charged with negotiating the differences between the House and Senate budget proposals, stripped this funding amendment from the budget. The eventual budget plan will still need approval from both chambers.

ORIGINAL POST 04/09/15: Lawmakers in the House initially passed the state's annual budget yesterday. After hours of debate, the chamber decided to set aside money to help preserve a passenger train that runs through southeastern Colorado. Bente Birkeland has more from the state capitol.

The annual Colorado budget is making its way through the statehouse. It cleared the Senate on a vote of 21 to 14, passing largely along party lines, with three Democrats joining Republicans to support it. What are the dynamics in play?

D. Utterback

  The state’s budget for next year initially passed the Senate on Wednesday after a nearly nine hour debate. It’s the final part of the months long budgeting process. As Bente Birkeland reports, lawmakers didn’t make many changes.

Capitol Conversation: Budget

Apr 2, 2015
D. Utterback

  The annual Colorado budget is making its way through the statehouse. It cleared the Senate on a vote of 21 to 14 passing largely along party lines, with three Democrats joining Republicans to support it. We asked John Frank with the Denver Post and Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press to talk about the dynamics at play.

  

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A bi-partisan measure aimed at reducing the number of tests Colorado public school students take is in limbo at the state legislature. The sponsors delayed the first hearing and don’t know when it will be rescheduled – if at all.

On average, students in Colorado classrooms take more than two-dozen assessments before they graduate, and in some cases up to four times a year according to the Colorado Education Association.  Critics say it actually means less time for overall learning.

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