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Colorado Parks and Wildlife

Eight libraries across the state are piloting the 'Check-Out Colorado State Park' program. It makes passes to state parks available for check out, along with backpacks stocked with information and activities.

The program is part of the Governor’s initiative to motivate Coloradans to take advantage of the outdoors.

Matt Richmond / KRCC

The proposed 2016 budget for Colorado Springs is now headed to city council for markup. At a public hearing earlier this week, residents questioned a few of the mayor's priorities. The two biggest concerns were parks and transportation funding.

At Tuesday night's public hearing, 22 people attended. One group wore blue shirts to show their support for public transit funding.

In Mayor Suthers' proposed budget, there's an 815,000 dollar increase in funding for Mountain Metropolitan Transit.

The El Paso County Clerk's office is urging voters to contact them if they have yet to receive a ballot.  KRCC's Tucker Hampson reports.

About 340,000 ballots went out in El Paso County last week. Election officials expect about 40-50% to be returned before Election Day.

"Every election is important, regardless of what jurisdiction you live in," says Ryan Parsell with the El Paso County Clerk and Recorders Office. 

Local tax and spending issues, as well as city council and mayoral races largely dominate Colorado's 2015 election. There is only one statewide question, which asks voters whether the state can keep marijuana tax money it's already collected to pay for school construction, law enforcement and other programs.

If that's a question that sounds familiar – that's because it is. Proposition BB will actually be the third time Colorado voters have weighed in on taxing marijuana.

Andrea Chalfin / KRCC

Work is set to begin this week on rail lines in western Kansas that carry Amtrak's Southwest Chief.  Portions of that track, plus segments in southeastern Colorado, were the target of a federal transportation grant awarded last year to help repair and upgrade freight lines to passenger rail speeds.  And, Colorado's Steel City is getting a boost from the work.

The Republican field to challenge Democratic U.S. Senator Michael Bennet is still very much up in the air, but some possible contenders have not ruled out entering the race.

Bennet's seat is one of 10 Democratic seats across the nation the party must defend in 2016. So far Republicans do not have a clear front-runner. Bright prospects including Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman and Arapahoe County District Attorney George Brauchler have both decided not to run.

Agencies are planning a number of prescribed burns throughout the area, focusing on reducing fuel load and promoting forest health:

Winter Water for Migrating Ducks

Oct 8, 2015
Shelley Schlender / RMCR

Colorado's South Platte River basin is a powerhouse for crops and cattle.  Massive reservoirs quench the region's thirst, with farm fields generally first in line.  Wildlife?  It's often last. But a small win-win is giving waterfowl a little more room at the watering hole.  It's a program that creates warm winter ponds for migrating ducks — then gives the water back, in time for summer crops. 

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado is well known for its outdoor recreation offerings, but Governor John Hickenlooper wants to take it to the next level by making it even easier for people to access open space and parks. Over the summer he unveiled the Colorado the Beautiful Initiative and more recently a $100 million pledge to create and connect bike trails. 

Pikes Peak Area Council of Governments

Friday is the last day to submit comments on a proposed transportation plan for the Pikes Peak area.

Moving Forward 2040 looks at existing and future needs for improvements to multi-modal transportation, and identifies $6 billion worth of need.  The plan has allocated $3 billion toward projects based on projected federal, state, and local funding.

El Paso County Commissioners have approved $120,000 to settle claims against former Sheriff Terry Maketa and other department employees.

The county approved $85,000 in a case alleging unfair retaliation after claims of sexual harassment. The other settlement pays $35,000 for allegations of civil rights abuses and a hostile work environment. A portion of the funds will come from the Sheriff's Office while attorney fees will be paid by the county's risk management fund.

Whole Foods says it will stop selling products made by a Colorado prison labor program after a protest against the practice at one of its stores in Texas.  The company says the products should be out of its stores by April 2016, if not sooner. Whole Foods says it has sold tilapia and goat cheese produced through the Colorado Correctional Industries program in Canon City since at least 2011.

Prison reform advocates have likened the program to indentured servitude, citing low wages. 

The Colorado Springs Police Department has received a grant of $600,000 to purchase 500 body cameras. The department plans to assign the cameras to about 470 police officers who work closely with citizens.

Policies will come after public input, says CSPD Commander Pat Rigdon, adding that they'll also be informed by the department's pilot program and by what other police departments have done. 

Tom Koerner/USFWS / Creative Commons

The U.S. Department of Interior decided on Tuesday that the greater sage grouse does not need protection under the Endangered Species Act. The bird spans eleven western states including Colorado, where it lives in pockets along the western slope.  The population is mostly concentrated in the northwest part of the state. Governor John Hickenlooper was one of the many people working to avoid a federal listing for the bird.  He sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to talk about the decision and other initiatives.

Interview Highlights

Woodland Park Looks at Traffic Circulation

Sep 22, 2015

The city of Woodland Park is taking the next step in planning for traffic issues in and around the city.

A traffic circulation study team will present more refined options that look at ways to alleviate congested traffic conditions in Woodland Park at a public meeting Tuesday night. 

The city's Planning Director Sally Riley says even though it usually comes down to funding, the city is trying to get citizen input to determine which issues are the most pressing.

A group opposing a proposed sales tax measure for road repairs in Colorado Springs has launched its campaign.

The ballot initiative, if passed, would institute a sales tax increase of approximately $50 million a year for five years to help pay for road repairs.

Laura Carno is spearheading the opposition, and says the city could be more efficient and find alternative ways to pay for the repairs.

Sit-Lie Ordinance Gets its Second Public Hearing

Sep 18, 2015
Matt Richmond / KRCC

Colorado Springs City Council is making changes to its controversial sit-lie proposal. The measure would restrict where people can sit and lie down in two of the city's commercial districts.

Officials are now lowering the penalties from possible jail time and a twenty-five hundred dollar fine to just a five hundred dollar fine.

The city hosted the second of two scheduled public meetings on the proposal on Thursday night in Old Colorado City.

Colorado's ban on collecting rain from residential rooftops has been a contentious topic at the statehouse, and a proposed bill for 2016 means it will likely be debated once again.

"Colorado is the only western state where rain barrels are illegal," said Drew Beckwith, a water policy manager with the nonprofit Western Resource Advocates.

"Every other western state that has our water laws has them legal, and it has not caused the Earth to come crashing to a halt."

So why is there so much controversy over collecting rainwater? The sticking point is whether doing so impacts downstream water users.

Inquiries into last month's spill of toxic wastewater into the Animas River in Southwestern Colorado continue on Capitol Hill.

The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee held a hearing Wednesday into the spill at the request of lawmakers from Colorado and New Mexico. 

Oil drilling on Colorado's populous Front Range has forced more interactions between communities and the energy industry – and that's caused tension. At the recent annual Rocky Mountain Energy Summit, one of the discussions centered on how to improve relations between the industry and the public.

It's an ongoing issue that the state will tackle in a new rule making hearing.

Results of bloodwork and soil testing done in the area of the former Colorado Smelter Superfund site in Pueblo were released this week. KRCC's Shanna Lewis reports that evidence of toxins was found.

135 people considered most at risk for exposure to lead had their blood drawn two years ago. Seven children were found to have elevated levels.  The report notes that even low levels of lead could cause serious health problems in children.

Mayor John Suthers Delivers State of the City Address

Sep 10, 2015
Matt Richmond / KRCC

Colorado Springs Mayor John Suthers is 100 days into his term. To mark the occasion, he gave a State of the City speech on Wednesday. As KRCC's Matt Richmond reports, the focus was on infrastructure and economic development.

Suthers made the case for two tax initiatives on November's ballot, emphasizing the need to make up for past budget cuts.

Greg Owens / National Park Service

The Black Canyon of the Gunnison just became Colorado’s first International Dark Sky certified National Park, and the ninth in the nation. The Western Slope park was recognized for its exceptional night sky views, as well as its efforts to preserve those views and educate people about the value of a dark night sky.

Ranger Nick Myers leads the astronomy program at the park. He says they’ve worked to reduce bright lights that can drown out the stars.

Shanna Lewis / KRCC

The 143rd Colorado State Fair closed on Monday with strong attendance, but the discussion continues on whether to move the fair out of Pueblo. KRCC’s Tucker Hampson reports.

More than a half million people attended the 11-day event this year, surpassing 2014.

Colorado has largely been spared from this summer's political wrangling ahead of the 2016 presidential race. But as Republicans nationally are working to narrow the presidential field, the GOP in Colorado wants to widen its field of candidates to run against incumbent Democratic Senator Michael Bennet next year.

"The numbers tell us Senator Bennet is vulnerable," said Republican state party Chairman Steve House. "It would be great to hold onto the U.S. Senate. Republicans have to defend a number of seats more than the Democrats."

The number of Coloradans who don't have health insurance has dropped by about half since President Barack Obama's signature health care law went into effect. The state's uninsured rate fell from 14.3 percent in 2013 to 6.7 percent in 2015. Not only does the Colorado Access Health Survey say that the uninsured are at a record low, it also finds that more people have enrolled in Medicaid.

Andrea Chalfin

The Colorado State Fair is full swing in Pueblo this week, and early numbers show a possible increase in turnout over last year.

The Fair saw an average of 45,000 people a day over opening weekend, a 2% increase in attendance says Chris Wiseman, Colorado State Fair General Manager.  Wiseman says he's optimistic about the coming weekend, but adds anything could happen.

Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Judge Richard Gabriel will soon be sworn in as Colorado's next State Supreme Court Justice. He currently serves on the Colorado Court of Appeals. He received his undergrad degree at Yale University and went to the University of Pennsylvania School of Law. He talked to statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland about his view of politics in the judicial process, why he became a lawyer, and some of his significant cases. 

Highlights from the Interview:

On Criticisms that Judges and Decisions are Too Political

Students are heading back to school, but the road to graduation for this year's incoming crop of seniors varies by high school. The reason? Unlike other states, Colorado does not have a set requirement for what it takes to receive a diploma.

Creating a standard is an ongoing debate and one that state lawmakers tried to answer in 2007 and 2008 when they approved legislation requiring a minimum statewide requirement.

A program to provide long acting reversible contraceptives to low-income women has been funded for another year. About a dozen health and community foundations have stepped up to provide the funds, something the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment had been working overtime to try and secure.