Capitol Coverage

Credit KIRK SIEGLER / KUNC

Capitol Coverage on 91.5 KRCC is a collaborative public policy reporting project supported by fifteen Colorado public radio stations providing news and analysis to communities statewide. 

91.5 KRCC and KUNC in Greeley provide editorial oversight and management; Bente Birkland is the reporter.

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A proposal to get more money for Colorado's aging and congested transportation system is on its legislative journey. The bipartisan bill, a top priority for legislative leaders and the governor, would send the question of a sales tax increase to voters and allow the state to borrow $3.5 billion for roads and infrastructure. The first committee hearing lasted about seven hours.  

Wednesday was a long day at the State Capitol. Eighty people signed up to testify on a massive transportation funding bill that if passed, would ultimately end up before voters in the fall.

During a more than seven-hour hearing before the House Transportation and Energy Committee people expressed lots of thoughts on how to improve Colorado’s roads -- and how to pay for them. Lawmakers also offered several dozen changes to House Bill 1242 but, in the end, the measure passed along party lines.

There are plenty of things that lead to distracted driving along Colorado’s roadways: eating, putting on makeup or changing the station on your radio. Texting and driving is one distraction state lawmakers want to crack down on. 

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Colorado's latest revenue forecast shows that state lawmakers will have to fill a larger budget gap than anticipated -- a $696 million gap. Bente Birkeland spoke with other statehouse reporters about what this could mean for the state budget.

Lawmakers are midway through this year’s legislative session and the big issue at the halfway mark is what to do about funding transportation. Democratic and Republican leaders are backing the idea of asking voters this fall if they support a tax increase to address those needs. The issue is poised to dominate the second half of the session.

“If there is going to be a long-term solution to transportation infrastructure it’s going to almost certainly require something that the voters are going to weigh in on,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican. He made that comment late last year, prior to the January start of the session, and has kept the promise, backing House Bill 1142, which would add millions of dollars for transportation needs.

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Legislative leaders have coalesced around a bill that, if approved, would ask Colorado voters to approve a sales tax increase to fund road, bridge and transit projects. The bipartisan transportation bill is dividing the GOP, with opponents saying Colorado hasn't done enough to tighten its budget and find efficiencies.

David Zalubowski / Associated Press

As Colorado's legislative session reaches the halfway point, lawmakers have introduced more than 400 bills. Many bills cover controversial topics and are short-lived, though the debates and hearings can last hours. So why do lawmakers spend so much time on legislation that never sees the light of day?

For some, it's intended to send a message. Others are aiming for long-term goals.

COURTESY OF SENATE PRESIDENT KEVIN GRANTHAM

A top Republican joined with Democratic leaders at the Colorado legislature Wednesday evening in an effort to find solutions to ongoing transportation woes.

To do that, lawmakers are proposing a bipartisan bill, HB1142, that would send the question to voters, asking for a 0.62-cent sales tax increase. That money would go towards priority infrastructure projects, as well as to provide funding to local governments for transit, roads, trails, and potholes.

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State lawmakers are leading an effort to change how the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) is calculated. The goal: Let Colorado keep more of the tax money it collects.  Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland talked to John Frank with The Denver Post and Charles Ashby with The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel about how the measure could free up millions of dollars for transportation, education and health care, and why it faces an uphill battle. 

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Advocates say Senate Bill 40 does something simple: It brings the Colorado Open Records Act into the 21st century by requiring state agencies to provide information in a digital format , such as a database or a spreadsheet, where feasible.

"These are the people's records. We are the custodians, we are the stewards of these records," said Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins. He's the main sponsor of the bill.

For some, the issue is more complicated.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

"If you put an entire community in danger, that shouldn't be a felony?" asked  Republican Sen. Jerry Sonnenberg of Sterling during a packed committee hearing on Feb. 16.

The topic of debate was Senate Bill 35, a measure that would increase the penalty for tampering with oil and equipment and attempting to interrupt operations.  Since it was first introduced, SB 35 has generated a lot of public interest. It has consistently been one of the "most accessed bills" on the state's legislative website.

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Recreational marijuana clubs, also called social lounges, are allowed in some Colorado communities, but state law is murky on whether or not their existence is legal and how they should be regulated. Two proposals currently moving through the legislature aim to add clarity by requiring either voters or local governments to approve the clubs.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland sat down with Kristen Wyatt of the Associated Press and Luke Perkins of the Durango Herald to discuss the details.

Republican state Sen. Ray Scott could help define one of the most often used phrases of 2017: fake news. 

The battle centers around an opinion column published in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel about Senate Bill 40, a bill to increase access to public records. The column implies that a scheduled hearing was postponed because Scott -- who serves as assistant majority leader -- didn’t support it. 

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

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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.

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.

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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.

Colorado officials have highlighted seven shovel-ready road and water projects should the Trump administration secure roughly $1 trillion in infrastructure funding. The National Governor’s Association sent that list, along with projects from 48 other states and territories, to the Trump administration on Feb. 8.

Colorado’s list includes adding two urgent projects -- an express lane heading west into the mountains on I-70 and adding capacity lanes along the northern and southern parts of I-25. It also includes water projects and one to expand rural broadband.

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.'

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.”

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