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.

Four years ago state lawmakers – and the governor – created a law to help undocumented children follow their American dreams. They allowed them to pay the significantly cheaper in-state tuition to go to state colleges instead of higher out-of-state prices. The requirements: They must graduate from a Colorado high school that they’ve attended for three years and promise to pursue citizenship.

“This is an issue that has been a challenge in our state and our country for many years,” said Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran, one of the main sponsors of Senate Bill 33.

Colorado’s first special session in five years ended after two days with no legislation passing. The governor had called lawmakers back to the state capitol to fix a mistake in the most extensive and heavily lobbied bill of the 2017 session, Senate Bill 267.

Statehouse reporters Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and John Frank with the Denver Post talk to Bente Birkeland about what went wrong and what it could mean when lawmakers return to the capitol for the regular session next year.

A political gamble taken by Gov. John Hickenlooper to fix a mistake in a bipartisan bill that he signed has come up short. After two days and $50,000 from taxpayers, no legislation was passed during the special legislative session.

Even before lawmakers began, Republican Senate leaders were steadfastly opposed to it. They thought the issue wasn’t an emergency, wasn’t well thought out or planned, and didn’t think the Governor had done enough to loop them into discussions to try to broker a compromise.

On Oct. 2, members of Colorado’s legislature are set to gather for a special session.

Gov. John Hickenlooper has been clear on why he thinks a special legislative session is needed. Some tax revenues, he said, are not going to places like the Denver Zoo and museums because of a mistake in a bill he signed earlier this year.

For only the second time during his tenure as governor, John Hickenlooper is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol outside of their regular session. He wants them to fix an error that is keeping thousands of dollars from getting to the Denver Zoo and regional transportation districts.

But a special session may not lead to a simple fix.

Merchandising giant Amazon wants to open a second headquarters – called Amazon HQ2 -- outside of Seattle. Colorado is pulling together what it hopes is a winning bid, but it’s a competitive venture.

“This has gotten the attention of the nation for that matter -- and North America, so we’re competing internationally,” said J. J. Ament, the CEO of the Metro Denver Economic Development Corporation.

While Colorado’s congressional delegation had mixed reactions to President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, many continue to show bipartisan support for the policy. The executive order, signed by President Obama, gave children brought into the United States illegally a chance to stay in the country legally.

Colorado is a resilient state. The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation and the population along the Front Range is booming. It’s easy to see the impact of a strong economy in Denver. Construction cranes are up all over the city and it’s harder than ever to find affordable housing.

But it’s a different story in many parts of western Colorado.

Hickenlooper file photo

Governor John Hickenlooper is denying that he and Ohio Governor and former GOP presidential candidate John Kasich are exploring a possible unity party presidential bid in 2020.  The speculation comes from national media sources, including CNN, which say Hickenlooper would run as Vice President. 

After President Trump tweeted that the U.S. military would no longer “allow or accept” transgender people to serve, troops on the ground were left with uncertainty. Military leaders say the policy won’t change until top Pentagon officials figure out how to implement it.

Emma Shinn is a 41-year-old Coloradan and veteran. She served in the Marine Corps for 20 years before retiring in 2014. When she served there was a ban on transgender people. Last year, she transitioned.  

Jackie Fortier / KUNC

Three years after legalizing recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, lawmakers are turning to pot to fill some gaps in the budget. That's why lawmakers voted to increase a special use tax on recreational marijuana sales from 10% to 15% in 2017. But while the money can be a salve for some of Colorado's problems, it doesn't, and can't, solve them all.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

With summer here, people are flocking to the outdoors, including the trails, campsites and reservoirs of the Colorado State Parks system. Last year, the parks hit a record number of visitors – 13.5 million.  But Colorado is struggling to keep up with the demand.

Flickr User: Pictures of Money / Creative Commons

Things are in limbo after Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell delayed a vote on the Republican effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act. A group of 13 senators crafted the bill after the House passed their version of a health care bill in May to replace what is also known as Obamacare.

Based on what's in the Senate bill right now, Bente Birkeland spoke with Joe Hanel of the nonpartisan Colorado Health Institute to break down what the numbers could mean for residents and the state's budget.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

 

During the legislative session, state lawmakers cut funding for the office that oversees weatherization and other energy saving programs for residents. Now, Gov. John Hickenlooper is asking the Joint Budget Committee to intervene to save the Colorado Energy Office, avoiding possible layoffs and program closures and delays.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Colorado is ramping up efforts to try and prevent marijuana from being diverted to the black market. Governor John Hickenlooper signed two bi-partisan bills into law Thursday. 

Austin Cope / KSJD

One of the biggest trade shows in the outdoor industry is still looking for a new home after the Outdoor Industry Association decided to leave Utah after two decades. Colorado has thrown its hat in the ring as a new potential site for the event, which brings together many of the world's largest outdoor companies.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Despite some setbacks, Colorado lawmakers are praising the now completed 2017 legislative session.  Lawmakers avoided major funding cuts to hospitals and took a step toward jump-starting condominium developments, but they failed to send a measure to voters that sought to raise the state's sales tax to fund road infrastructure repair.

Bente Birkeland spoke with Democratic Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran about some of the major pieces of legislation that passed through the Democratic House and Republican Senate.

91.5 KRCC

Colorado's annual 120-day legislative ended May 10. Lawmakers passed several bipartisan initiatives to restore proposed cuts to hospitals, and put more money into roads and schools. But many bills addressing key issues also failed.

Bente Birkeland talked with Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Brian Eason with the Denver Post about some of the highs and lows of the 2017 session.

Colorado lawmakers waited until Wednesday, the final day of their annual session, to vote on what many people felt was their most significant bill: one addressing transportation. Democratic and Republican leaders wanted a deal. So did Gov. John Hickenlooper. And it took lawmakers until the last minute to hammer out a deal on transportation.

Nobody seemed to get everything they wanted, but Senate Bill 267 passed the house with a vote of 49 to 16 vote and is on its way to Hickenlooper for a signature. It adds about $2 billion for roads, but those who hoped to see  money go to mayors to address local problems, or to transit, were disappointed.

91.5 KRCC

Colorado's annual legislative session ends Wednesday, May 10. Several hundred bills have already passed this year, but some major items still remain. Bente Birkeland talked to statehouse reporters Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Nic Garcia at Chalkbeat Colorado about what's left to do.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Governor John Hickenlooper wants the state to reevaluate how it inspects oil and gas wells in the wake of a fatal home explosion in Firestone. An oil and gas flow line was found to be severed and leaking methane and other gases. Two people died and another was critically injured in the explosion.  

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

If lawmakers won't address the issue of transportation, several groups say they will, through a ballot initiative asking Colorado voters to raise taxes to improve roads, bridges and transit projects.

One of the most important advocates of the plan to increase taxes in the legislature was an unlikely ally, the Senate's top Republican. But he couldn't prevent members of his own party from defeating House Bill 1242 at the end of April.

91.5 KRCC

Colorado energy regulators are trying to quell the public's fears after a house built near an oil and gas well exploded, killing two men. The explosion happened in the small community of Firestone, thirty miles north of Denver, where oil and gas wells are common.  State officials are still investigating the explosion and don't know what caused it.

The largest oil and gas producer in Colorado has temporarily shut down 3,000 wells as an investigation into the explosion of a house where two people died continues.

KIRK SIEGLER / KUNC

Transportation funding, the highest legislative priority for the governor and leaders in both parties, failed in the Republican-controlled Senate Finance Committee Tuesday, April 25.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Earlier this month, Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Nick Coltrain won the First Amendment Award in the Society for Professional Journalists' Top of the Rockies contest for a battle with Colorado State University. He wanted to know if there were inequities in pay between men and women.  He discovered there were, but only after a lot of work. The school provided him with a printout of all the information—150 pages of an Excel spreadsheet—rather than the files themselves.

Coltrain's struggle to convert the printouts into something he could analyze prompted a battle about the public's right to access data. On April 25, a senate bill to require electronic records be made available where possible advanced by a 7 to 6 vote in the House Finance Committee.

91.5 KRCC

Colorado's legislative session is starting to wind down, but two of the major policy goals are unraveling.

Getting more money for transportation infrastructure projects and transit is one of them. A bill that would send a sales tax increase to voters cleared the Democratic House and its first Senate committee. But Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham now says he doesn't have enough Republican Party support for the measure to pass the Finance committee.

KIRK SIEGLER / KUNC

Tempers are flaring in the final weeks of Colorado's legislative session and some of the top priorities for lawmakers are in serious jeopardy of failing.

91.5 KRCC

With just weeks left in the legislative session, bills are moving through the statehouse at rapid speed. Topics that have recently generated a lot of interest are teen sexting and oil and gas legislation.

Karen Montgomery / Flickr.com - Creative Commons

Colorado is now the first state in the country to allow all Olympic athletes training in here to get in-state college tuition. Right now, it only applies to athletes living at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs.

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