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The Army has released its final Environmental Impact Statement for a proposed increase in training and operations at the Pinon Canyon Maneuver Site in rural southeast Colorado.  The Army is looking to increase training at the site to include explosives, drones and full-brigade sized exercises, though in the final 642-page document [.pdf], the Army says it’s no l

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As they prepare to write the annual budget, there's mixed news for Colorado lawmakers. The latest revenue forecast shows the economy will remain strong, but there is a lot of uncertainty going forward, especially when it comes to low oil prices and how it ripples through the state's economy.

Ballots are hitting mailboxes in Colorado Springs for April’s municipal election. Voters are being asked to choose a new mayor, as well as a council representative from the city’s northern District 2 and three at-large city council members.

Trying to get more information on the health impact of oil and gas drilling is a topic that lawmakers will soon be taking up at the statehouse. It comes after the Governor's Oil and Gas Task Force finished their work and issued several health related recommendations.

"I get a little bit concerned and annoyed when people try to use health as the basis of what they don't like about oil and gas," said Dr. Larry Wolk the Executive Director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and the Environment.

He said he understands the concern, but worries the state doesn't have enough hard data.

D. Utterback

Governor John Hickenlooper recently sat down with reporters to discuss how the legislative session is going so far. Lawmakers are just past the midpoint of the four-month long session.

Which bills are being delayed?

How is the Governor handling split legislative control?

Here are a couple highlights from the conversation:

Kristen Wyatt, Associated Press

COGA

Tisha Schuller announced earlier this week that she’s leaving her position as head of the Colorado Oil and Gas Association, the state’s largest trade organization for the energy industry. She sat down with Bente Birkeland to discuss industry challenges and why she's moving on.
 

A bill to expand a teen pregnancy prevention program for low-income youth failed in the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday on a party line 3-2 vote. Republicans defeated the measure, one that was sponsored by one of their own.

"I guess this is my big thing is let's take an inventory of what we're doing before we throw another layer on there," said Senate Finance Committee chair Tim Neville (R-Littleton).

Two Republican religious freedom bills drew strong opposition from gay rights groups, civil liberties organizations and members of the business community Monday. The first bill, known as House Bill 1171 [.pdf], would have forbade government officials from constraining the exercise of religion had it not been struck down in committee.

The second bill, House Bill 1161 [.pdf], would have protected people from facing penalties for refusing to violate their beliefs and was also defeated.

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State lawmakers are officially at the halfway point of the 2015 legislative session. What needs to be done before the end of the session? Lawmakers will need to pass a balanced budget, and along the way grapple with some hot-button issues such as school testing requirements and police reforms.

"Most of the big work is ahead of us, what happens for the first half is kind of getting ready for it," said Senate President Bill Cadman (R-Colorado Springs).

Maggie Spencer / KRCC

  Last Saturday night, March 7th, 2015, KRCC's News Director Andrea Chalfin and the Big Something/Wish We Were Here's Noel Black and Jake Brownell both took home first place awards from the Colorado Broadcasters Association's annual awards gala the "Excellence Awards."  

State lawmakers are midway through the annual legislative session. Bente Birkeland talked with Ivan Moreno with the Associated Press and Charles Ashby with the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel to discuss police reform bills and workforce development measures that will get a lot of attention in the coming weeks.

The International Dark Sky Association certified the neighboring towns of Westcliffe and Silver Cliff in southern Colorado’s Wet Mountain Valley as the world’s ninth Dark Sky Community. KRCC's Shanna Lewis reports.

Stars stretch from horizon to horizon on a clear night in the Wet Mountain Valley. The designation recognizes the community’s efforts to protect this view by reducing light pollution. 

David Simeral / Western Regional Climate Center

The recent pile up of snow in southern Colorado is helping to ease the state’s drought conditions.  KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports.
 

The U.S. Drought Monitor says about 63% of the sate is dealing with abnormally dry or drought conditions compared with 72% at this time last year.

The precipitation in southern Colorado is above average, says Larry Walrod, a lead forecaster with the National Weather Service in Pueblo.  Walrod also says NOAA recently released an El Niño advisory.

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The sponsor of a proposal to put guardrails around the use of drones for non- government purposes asked lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee to delay a vote on the bill on Tuesday.

“I would work with members of the committee to make sure it truly protects the privacy of people in the state,” said Representative Polly Lawrence (R-Roxborough Park).

After nearly two hours of testimony that focused on emerging technologies and a person’s reasonable expectation of privacy, many lawmakers said still they had questions about the bill.

Martha Perez-Sanz / KRCC (file photo)

Students in La Junta plan to visit Bent’s Old Fort Wednesday in order to virtually recreate its environment. KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports.
 

Students from Otero Junior College and La Junta High School are expected to take measurements of the site in order to recreate it on the popular computer game Minecraft.

The City of Colorado Springs is currently accepting proposals from architectural and engineering firms to design the new Pikes Peak Summit Visitor Center. KRCC’s Tucker Hampson reports.
 

Over 600,000 people reach the summit of Pikes Peak each year, according to the city’s numbers. Manager Jack Glavan says the existing facilities at the top are 50 years old, and it’s time the peak saw some improvements.

Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force recently proposed nine recommendations to try and easy concerns for people living near energy development, but it did not vote to give local communities more control over oil and gas drilling.

Many state lawmakers were waiting on recommendations before introducing energy related bills.

As part of our Capitol Conversation series, Bente Birkeland takes a look ahead with Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press and Peter Marcus with the Durango Herald.

Here are two highlights from the conversation:

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force will deliver its final recommendations Friday. The group is proposing nine changes to try and mitigate the impacts of energy development near communities. The task force also wants local governments to be more involved in developing large drill sites, but stopped short of allowing cities and counties to adopt stricter rules than the state standards. Bente Birkeland sat down with the Governor to discuss his thoughts on the group’s work and some of the backlash from members of his own party.

 After five months of meetings, the work of Governor John Hickenlooper’s oil and gas task force is getting mixed reviews from lawmakers at the state capitol. 

Governor John Hickenlooper created the task force last August to avoid a fracking fight at the ballot box, and to keep two anti- oil and gas measures from reaching voters. Now, that group of individuals from the industry to environmentalists has backed nine recommendations, such as adding more well inspectors and trying to reduce truck traffic.

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A bill to try and reduce teen pregnancies and provide state funding for intrauterine devices or IUDs passed its first test at the capitol. House Bill 1194 would provide $5 million for clinics across the state that offer reversible long-term contraceptives to low-income women and teenagers. Colorado has been running the program with a private grant.

A bill in Colorado’s Senate that seeks funding to help preserve Amtrak’s Southwest Chief route passed out of committee today on a 5-2 vote. 

This comes on the heels of a report from the state’s Southwest Chief Commission that says the original expected $40 million share to help save the long distance route has been knocked down to 8.91 million, due in part to a federal transportation grant and negotiations with BNSF Railway, the company that owns the tracks. 

In this week's Capitol Conversation, Bente Birkeland takes a look at the policy debates ahead. She talked to Kristen Wyatt with the Associated Press and John Frank with the Denver Post about what they’ll be covering and some issues that do and don’t fall along party lines.

A debate on drones does not fall along party lines and will get a hearing in the Senate Tuesday.

Investigators have arrested a 44-year-old man in connection to an explosion last month outside a building that houses the Colorado Springs chapter of the NAACP.  

Thaddeus Cheyenne Murphy faces charges of arson and being a felon in possession of firearms. A search of Murphy’s home revealed seven guns and devices similar to the one used in the explosion earlier this year.  The U.S. Attorney’s office says that device was a road flare and pipe bomb near a container of gasoline.  No one was hurt in the explosion.

Much of Southern Colorado can expect to see some heavy snowfall this upcoming weekend. KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports.

Up to around 15 inches of snow are predicted beginning late Friday night with daytime temperatures forecasted in the 20’s and 30’s.
 

Brett Levin Flickr / Creative Commons

The state of Colorado is facing new lawsuits over recreational marijuana legalization. The Washington DC based Safe Streets Alliance is suing the state in federal court to try and close down the industry.

“It is illegal under federal law to sell marijuana and in this country federal law is the supreme law of the land,” said David Thompson, the lead attorney for the Safe Streets Alliance.

Bob Wick, BLM California / BLM Flickr / Creative Commons

Browns Canyon in Chaffee County will be designated a National Monument by President Obama on Thursday. 
 

Conservationists, community leaders and businesses are praising the move, which comes after years of work to secure the designation.  It covers a 22,000-acre stretch of public land along the Arkansas River between Buena Vista and Salida known for recreational opportunities. 

Keith Baker heads the non-profit group Friends of Browns Canyon.

A new smart phone app for the Pikes Peak region is looking to connect local food producers with consumers. KRCC’s Dana Cronin reports.

The app is called LocalFood and will allow users to find, purchase, or sell products that are grown or produced within a 67-mile radius of Colorado Springs.

Colorado’s 2015 legislative session has been marked by a host of interesting and controversial issues, rather than one or two topics dominating debates. Bente Birkeland checks in with other statehouse reporters as part of our weekly capitol conversation series.
 

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A measure that would require cities and counties to compensate mineral owners who aren’t able to develop oil and gas because of local regulations cleared its first committee at the statehouse on Thursday. Bente Birkeland has more:
 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

It has been more than a year since recreational marijuana stores opened in Colorado and retail sales began. Schools are grappling with the best way to discusses marijuana in the classroom amidst changing attitudes. 

While schools aren’t required to separate out marijuana incidents from other illicit drugs such as cocaine, anecdotal evidence compiled by Rocky Mountain PBS I-News suggests more students are using marijuana.

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