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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Capitol Coverage
12:04 pm
Thu April 16, 2015

Fetal Homicide Bill Introduced at Statehouse

Credit file

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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Capitol Coverage
3:38 pm
Tue April 14, 2015

Mascot Bill Delayed at Last Minute

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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.  

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Capitol Coverage
10:58 am
Thu April 9, 2015

Southwest Chief Funding Amendment Initially Passes House

Amtrak's Southwest Chief
Credit 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.

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NPR Story
8:14 am
Mon April 6, 2015

With Partisan Wrangling In The Senate, What's Next For The Colorado Budget?

Ken Lund Flickr - Creative Commons

Originally published on Mon April 6, 2015 7:55 am

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?

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CapCov
11:30 pm
Thu April 2, 2015

Senate Debates Budget

Bente Birkeland
Credit 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.

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Capitol Conversation
9:22 pm
Thu April 2, 2015

Capitol Conversation: Budget

Capitol Reporter Bente Birkeland
Credit 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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Education
10:07 am
Wed March 25, 2015

Testing Reform Remains in Limbo

Credit clipart

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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Child Poverty
3:46 pm
Mon March 23, 2015

Child Poverty Rate is Down in Colorado

Children visit the state capitol for the release of the annual Kids Count Report from the Colorado Children's Campaign.
Credit Bente Birkeland / RMCR

Colorado’s childhood poverty rate has decreased for the first time in five years. The latest data comes as part of the annual Kids Count Report, which offers information on the health and well being of children across the state.

“That is great news for Colorado,” said Lt. Governor Joe Garcia. He went on to add that there’s always a but. “We know that there are still far too many children growing up in households where they don’t have access to the opportunities and resources they need to be healthy and succeed."

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Capitol Conversation
7:43 am
Mon March 23, 2015

Capitol Conversation: Revenue Forecast and the State Budget

Capitol reporter Bente Birkeland
Credit D. Utterback

Colorado’s latest revenue forecast was a mixed bag for lawmakers, showing a healthy economy and more money for the state budget. But there’s also a lot of uncertainty moving forward. Bente Birkeland sat down with Ivan Moreno of the Associated Press and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal to discuss the implications of more state revenue.
 

Here are excerpts from the interview:

What it means for the state budget:

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Capitol Coverage
4:25 pm
Thu March 19, 2015

Mixed News in Colorado's Latest Revenue Forecast

Credit file

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.

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Energy
9:11 pm
Mon March 16, 2015

Colorado Legislature Poised For A Look At Oil & Gas Health Impacts

Jim Hill KUNC

Originally published on Fri March 13, 2015 9:46 am

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.

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Capitol Conversation
3:06 pm
Mon March 16, 2015

Capitol Conversation: Session's Second Half Begins

Capitol Reporter Bente Birkeland
Credit 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

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Energy
4:39 pm
Fri March 13, 2015

Q & A: Tisha Schuller, Head of Colorado Oil & Gas Association, Steps Down

Tisha Schuller, head of COGA, is stepping down
Credit 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.
 

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Capitol Coverage
4:19 pm
Wed March 11, 2015

Teen Pregnancy Prevention Expansion Stumbles In Committee

Senator Ellen Roberts (R-Durango) and Margery Grandbouche with Hilltop Community Resources, which operates the Get Real Teen Pregnancy Prevention Program testify in support of a bill to expand the program statewide.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Wed March 11, 2015 7:40 am

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).

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Capitol Coverage
4:24 pm
Tue March 10, 2015

Two Republican Religious Freedom Bills Fall In Committee

Opponents of two religious liberty proposals rally at the state capitol prior to the hearing on Monday. They said the bills would hurt business and give people a license to discriminate in Colorado. Jessie Ulibarri (D-Westiminster) attended the rally.
Bente Birkeland RMCR

Originally published on Tue March 10, 2015 8:52 am

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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Capitol Coverage
8:36 am
Tue March 10, 2015

2015 Legislative Session Reaches its Mid-Point

Credit file

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).

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Capitol Conversation
3:40 pm
Mon March 9, 2015

Capitol Conversation: Midway through the Session

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.

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Capitol Coverage
10:28 pm
Tue March 3, 2015

House Committee Delays Vote on Drone Use

Credit file

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.

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Capitol Conversation
7:34 am
Mon March 2, 2015

Capitol Conversation: What's Next in Oil & Gas?

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:

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Capitol Coverage
8:40 pm
Thu February 26, 2015

Hickenlooper Responds to the Work of His Oil & Gas Task Force

Governor Hickenlooper responds to the work of his oil & gas task force
Credit 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.

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Oil & Gas
7:57 am
Thu February 26, 2015

Governor's Oil & Gas Task Force Gets Mixed Reviews

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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Capitol Coverage
9:54 am
Wed February 25, 2015

Family Planning Bill Passes First Test

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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.

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Capitol Conversation
7:30 am
Mon February 23, 2015

Capitol Conversation: Oil & Gas Task Force and Other Issues

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.

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Capitol Coverage
2:26 pm
Thu February 19, 2015

Colorado Faces New Challenges to Pot Legalization

Marijuana at legal grow operation in Colorado.
Credit 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.

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Capitol Conversation
7:45 am
Mon February 16, 2015

Capitol Conversation: Checking in on the Session

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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Capitol Coverage
2:54 pm
Fri February 13, 2015

Mineral Rights Bill Clears Committee

Credit file

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:
 

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Marijuana
10:11 am
Fri February 13, 2015

Legalized Marijuana and an Education Conundrum

Arapaho Ridge High School in Boulder
Credit 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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Marijuana
4:05 pm
Thu February 12, 2015

Measuring Pot Use in Schools

Credit Clipart.com

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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Capitol Conversation
7:45 am
Mon February 2, 2015

Capitol Conversation: Physician Assisted Suicide

Capitol reporter Bente Birkeland
Credit D. Utterback

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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Capitol Coverage
4:58 pm
Thu January 29, 2015

Background Checks for Youth Leagues Defeated

Credit file

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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