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 Birkeland is the reporter.

Colorado lawmakers are working on several high priority issues including human trafficking, updating a driver’s license program for undocumented immigrants and responding to the mass school shooting in Parkland, Florida.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Jesse Aaron Paul of the Denver Post and Marianne Goodland with ColoradoPolitics about the issues they are covering under the gold dome.

Sen. Randy Baumgardner said he will no longer serve as chairman of a powerful committee in the wake of formal complaints of sexual harassment. He said he volunteered to do so in a conversation with Senate President Kevin Grantham to help put a controversy behind him that has been simmering since November.   

“This is painful for me to do so in many ways because I’ve worked on these issues for years," Baumgardner said, as he announced he would no longer lead the Transportation Committee. "I think it’s probably one of the best things I can do."

Sen. Randy Baumgardner is now facing a second formal sexual harassment complaint at the Colorado Capitol. Megan Creeden, who served as an intern for another lawmaker, said she filed the complaint "hoping it will trigger something to happen."

An earlier investigation into allegations against the Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs concluded that “it appears more likely than not that Baumgardner grabbed and slapped a legislative aide’s buttocks four times during the 2016 legislative session.” 

Funding for Colorado’s Civil Rights Commission and the Division of Civil Rights is uncertain following a vote in the legislature Thursday, Feb. 8. The Joint Budget Committee deadlocked in a 3-3 vote – which effectively shuts off funding to the agencies starting July 1. Gov. John Hickenlooper criticized the decision, saying it “sends the wrong message to Coloradans and businesses looking to move here.”

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Marianne Goodland of Colorado Politics and Ed Sealover of the Denver Business Journal about the politics behind the vote, and how it may impact other business at the capitol.

Sen. Larry Crowder, R-Alamosa, is the latest lawmaker to be named publicly in allegations of sexual misconduct.

Colorado Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman said she does not want to be involved in any process that would determine potential disciplinary actions against Sen. Randy Baumgardner for sexual harassment. This follows a public effort by her fellow Democrats who urged in a letter that she be a part of that process.

Kevin Grantham, the president of Colorado's Senate, refused to say whether he would make any punishment stemming from a sexual harassment investigation -- public. He was asked Monday (Feb. 5, 2018) during a weekly media briefing with Capitol reporters whether he would commit to telling Coloradans any disciplinary action Sen. Randy Baumgardner would face. Baumgardner is the subject of a formal sexual harassment complaint.

“I can’t say one way or the other on that," Grantham said.

Last week, we broke the story that the complaint was considered credible by the independent group that spent two months investigating it. Leadership in the Senate will determine any disciplinary action, it could range from doing nothing, to a private apology or more training, to expulsion from the chamber. Expulsion requires a full vote of the sitting members of the chamber.

State Senate leaders are in a position to decide whether to impose some kind of punishment against Sen. Randy Baumgardner.

The Hot Sulphur Springs Republican is facing a formal complaint of sexual harassment -- a complaint a key source tells us has been validated.

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There is bipartisan support during the 2018 legislative session for a slate of bills on two major topics—consumer data protections and combating Colorado’s opioid epidemic. The measures are slated to get their first hearings this month, but there are still disagreements on how any legislation will ultimately come together.

The woman who filed a sexual harassment complaint against Sen. Randy Baumgardner at Colorado's Capitol said her allegations are considered credible by those tasked with investigating them. An outside company, the Employers Council, investigated the allegations on behalf of legislative leaders.

The woman said she learned of the results of the investigation from a Senate staffer on Tuesday (Jan. 30, 2018). The woman said the staffer told her “the evidence suggests there should be a consequence."

It’s been two months since sexual harassment complaints were filed against several legislators at Colorado’s Capitol. They came mostly in November, during the off-session, when the hallways were quiet.

Now, the building is bustling as lawmakers, lobbyists, aides, staffers and others getting back to work. Committees are debating bills on subjects ranging from transportation to health care.

But still looming in the background are the formal complaints of sexual harassment.

Many rural parts of Colorado don’t have access to high speed internet. Governor John Hickenlooper says correcting that must be a priority for lawmakers, if the state wants to recruit and grow economies outside of the Denver metro area. A bipartisan group of lawmakers is hoping to take up that challenge with Senate Bill 2.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Ed Sealover at the Denver Business Journal and Marianne Goodland with Colorado Politics about the broadband debate.

Legislative leaders have selected the Investigations Law Group to offer recommendations on how to change the General Assembly’s workplace harassment policy. 

Investigations Law Group was one of two finalists after the initial list was narrowed. The leaders were split 3-3 along party lines earlier in the week, but came to an agreement on Wednesday, where they voted 4-2.

The transportation bill backed by Senate Republicans in Colorado gets its first hearing on Tuesday. Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland talked to Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Marianne Goodland with Colorado Politics about that and other issues as part of our weekly series during the legislative session.

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Colorado lawmakers recently headed back to the state capitol for the annual legislative session. It's the final session for term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper. Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland talked to Brian Eason of The Denver Post and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal to get their outlook on the coming months.

Five women are accusing Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton of retaliating against them because they went public with allegations of sexual harassment or intimidating behavior by him. They take issue with a 28-page defense that Lebsock delivered to the mailboxes of his fellow House members just before the legislative session began.

The document has ignited anger among some and is the latest chapter in a series of counter-claims by the Democrat who in the  coming weeks faces the possibility of a vote to oust him from the legislature. 

As Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his final State of the State address, he received a warm reception from members in both parties. He highlighted some of his successes over his past seven years in office and outlined a broad agenda of what he’d like to see lawmakers accomplish in his last year before he leaves office because of term limits.

Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol to begin work on a number of issues such as how to improve the state’s roadways. But amid the usual pomp and circumstance and speeches that usher in the four-month 2018 session, the cloud of sexual harassment allegations loomed large.

COURTESY OF SENATE PRESIDENT KEVIN GRANTHAM

Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham is term limited and sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to discuss his focus for his final legislative session.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Lawmakers head to the gold dome on Jan. 10 to begin Colorado's annual legislative session. Here are highlights from statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland's interview with House Minority Leader Patrick Neville about his priorities.

Bente Birkeland / Capitol Coverage

Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran is heading into her final legislative session as a lawmaker. She talked to statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland about her goals when the session starts up on Jan. 10.

Here are some highlights from statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland's interview with her.

Courtesy Gov. John Hickenlooper's Office

Colorado lawmakers return to the Capitol on Wednesday, Jan. 10, to begin the annual legislative session. For term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, he'll soon be delivering his final state of the state address.

Here are highlights from statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland's interview with him.

The Capitol is set to hire an independent human resources person in the wake of numerous harassment allegations. It’s not yet clear what role the new HR person would play, but it may take any formal complaints or investigations out of the hands of legislative leadership.

Steve Lebsock, the state representative accused of sexual misconduct, has again gone on the offensive, this time to say that he's taken a lie detector test that clears him of any wrongdoing. A fellow Democrat, Rep. Faith Winter, is among two women to file formal complaints alleging sexual harassment against Lebsock, who is also campaigning to be Colorado's next treasurer. Lebsock has repeatedly said he deserves the chance to face his accuser and took the test because he said the complaint process is progressing too slowly.

“After waiting 26 days waiting to hear from the fact finder, I decided to get my story out,” said Lebsock at a press conference he arranged near his office across the street from the Capitol Thursday. “All of the allegations are false and I am willing to do a polygraph on all the false allegations.”

Three lawmakers face formal complaints at the state Capitol alleging sexual harassment. We went to the districts these lawmakers represent to see what their constituents think about the situation. The overall message: sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated and there should be consequences should the allegations be proven true.

Kathy Ochsner is a 73-year-old retired secretary who lives in Centennial, south of Denver.

“I think we need to send the message that this is not OK,” she said. “This is not part of the workplace.”

There’s the allegation of a lawmaker who suggested sexual acts and tried to force a colleague to go home with him. Another allegedly grabbed and slapped an aide’s buttocks as she walked in the Capitol. Another claim: A senator would regularly leer, comment on an intern’s clothes and linger, touching her shoulder.

So far, our reporting has prompted four women to file formal sexual harassment complaints against three lawmakers at the state legislature. Just two of those women – Rep. Faith Winter and former lobbyist Holly Tarry – have gone public, willing to be named in their claims against Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat running for state treasurer. Lebsock has denied any wrongdoing. He has refused calls to resign by top leaders in his own party. 

[Update 12/14/17 1:15 p.m.] No charges will be filed against Rep. Lori Saine. The news was announced Dec. 14 by the Boulder district attorney’s office. The case was passed to Boulder because Denver’s district attorney Beth McCann worked closely with Saine when they were both state lawmakers. The Boulder district attorney’s office says Saine “totally forgot the firearm was in her purse and no criminal case against Ms. Saine can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

A state lawmaker has drafted legislation to remove Rep. Steve Lebsock from office as Lebosck has refused calls for his resignation. It sets the stage for a battle, as allegations of sexual harassment continue at the Colorado Capitol. Lebsock is a Democrat running for state treasurer.

Rep. Matt Gray, also a Democrat, said he will introduce a resolution when lawmakers return to the legislature in January. Gray said he believes the accounts of the women who first accused Lebsock in our stories last month. 

Another woman has decided to file a formal complaint alleging sexual harassment by a lawmaker at Colorado’s Capitol. The former legislative intern alleges that Sen. Jack Tate regularly leered at her and nudged her, making inappropriate comments during the 2017 legislative session.

That raises the number of formal complaints against lawmakers to four. Earlier this month, we reported that Rep. Faith Winter and former lobbyist Holly Tarry filed complaints against Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat, alleging unwanted sexual advances and vulgar and inappropriate discussions.

A former legislative aide has filed a sexual harassment complaint against Republican state Sen. Randy Baumgardner for inappropriately touching her. 

The woman alleges that Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs slapped and grabbed her buttocks about four times over a three month period during the 2016 legislative session when she worked at the State Capitol. She alleges that each incident happened inside the Capitol building during her workday, often while she was walking through a corridor next to the Senate Chamber. 

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