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.

Sexual harassment allegations at Colorado's Capitol came with a sizeable price tag for taxpayers -- $275,000. That includes everything from fees for attorneys, sexual harassment training and consultants to staffing for a special committee of lawmakers meeting this summer and fall to study changes to the Capitol's workplace harassment policy.

The last Republican governor of Colorado, Bill Owens, ended his term in 2007. That's why the GOP is pushing hard to replace term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper.

The four Democratic candidates vying to replace Gov. John Hickenlooper recently discussed everything from transportation and education to fixing the state's budget in a debate this week.

Colorado lawmakers wrapped up their annual legislative session this week. Even though the session was often overshadowed by sexual harassment allegations and the expulsion of former Rep. Steve Lebsock, lawmakers and the governor said it was one of the most successful sessions in history

After a dramatic and tearful day in early March, lawmakers voted out one of their own. Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock was the first lawmaker expelled in 103 years after allegations of sexual harassment, intimidation and retaliation from five women, were found to be credible.

But that wasn't the end.

Updated: This story has been updated to reflect additional comments from the Governor.

A punishment for Sen. Randy Baumgardner, amid allegations of sexual harassment that investigators found credible, has spurred a series of reactions at Colorado’s Capitol, and some critics described the discipline as a slap on the wrist. Senate Democrats have renewed their calls for Baumgardner’s resignation or expulsion and Gov. John Hickenlooper declined to say whether he thinks Baumgardner should step down.

Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, was removed from interim committee assignments for the summer, as well as his leadership position on the Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee. Two letters from Republican leaders -- one from Senate President Kevin Grantham and another from Majority Leader Chris Holbert -- spelled out the punishment on May 2.

Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham has stripped Sen. Randy Baumgardner, R-Hot Sulphur Springs, from serving on any active Senate committees effective as of May 2. Grantham requested the change after workplace harassment allegations from nine people have been found credible by two outside investigators.

A Republican House leader is facing a backlash from his own caucus for sponsoring a bill that would allow law enforcement and family members to get a court order to temporarily remove a person’s guns if that person poses a danger. The so-called "red flag" measure cleared the House Judiciary committee on Tuesday night along party lines.

A bi-partisan measure that would have updated and clarified how public and private colleges and universities address campus sexual assault failed in the Senate Appropriations Committee along party lines on Tuesday.  It had already passed in the Democratic-controlled House and cleared another Senate committee.

Thousands of Colorado teachers spent two days rallying at the state Capitol for higher salaries and more money for schools. They highlighted long-standing funding problems and potential changes to the state’s public employee pension program currently being debated by the legislature.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Brian Eason of The Associated Press and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal about the rallies.

Senate leaders expect to meet soon to address next steps in possible punishments for Sen. Randy Baumgardner. Three independent investigations by two agencies have found allegations of sexual harassment against him at the Capitol credible.

Democrats are pushing for swift action. Baumgardner, a Hot Sulphur Springs Republican, survived an expulsion vote on April 2. That vote hinged on the findings of just one of the three investigations, which concluded that Baumgardner more likely than not grabbed and slapped a former legislative aide’s buttocks.  The two other investigations had not been finalized at the time of that vote. They were only released to the accusers last week. We made them fully available to the public on April 24 with the accusers’ consent.

Two accusers who filed workplace harassment complaints at Colorado’s Capitol against Sen. Randy Baumgardner are now releasing the full investigative findings to the public.

The investigations from Littleton Alternative Dispute Resolution Inc. found allegations that Baumgardner, a Republican from Hot Sulphur Springs, sexually harassed people and was inappropriate to be credible. In a story on Monday (April 23), we reported on some of the key findings, involving six additional people who brought allegations as a result of the investigation.

A major piece of legislation to reform the state’s pension plan is making its way through the state legislature during the final days of the session. One in 10 Coloradans receives a public pension through the Public Employees Retirement Association (PERA). But PERA has unfunded liabilities totaling about $32 billion, and lawmakers are divided over how best to shore up the program.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Marianne Goodland with Colorado Politics and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal about the possible changes and its likelihood of passage.

An investigation determined that eight people's allegations of sexual harassment and inappropriate behavior from Sen. Randy Baumgardner were credible. The findings, by Littleton-based Alternative Dispute Resolution Inc., an independent firm, are in addition to earlier allegations a separate company found to have more likely than not occurred.

An outside consultant, who studied workplace culture at the state Capitol, found nearly half of the roughly 500 people surveyed had witnessed sexist and/or seriously disrespectful behavior. A third said they had experienced sexual harassment first-hand. And nearly 90 percent of those who say they were harassed didn’t speak out or file a complaint. Many said they feared retaliation from their accusers and others.

Those findings, by the Investigations Law Group, mirror what we’ve discovered in almost six months of reporting on this issue.

Colorado’s annual legislative session is nearing its end and lawmakers still have plenty of work to wrap up before May 9. Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Brian Eason with The Associated Press and Jesse Paul of the Denver Post about some of the major pieces of legislation that remain.

Crowded fields -- especially in the race for governor -- narrowed considerably after Colorado's Democratic and Republican state assemblies on Saturday, April 14.

A 235-page report from an outside consultant says the culture at Colorado’s state capitol is unhealthy -- and the system in place to detect and deter harassment is not working. It contains about two dozen recommendations on how to improve the culture and strengthen policies to deter workplace harassment – which means legislative leaders have a lot to wade through and some tough decisions ahead.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Brian Eason of the Associated Press and John Frank with the Denver Post about how lawmakers might use the information to make changes.

A more than 200-page report from the Denver-based Investigations Law Group reaffirms that there are systemic cultural and sexual harassment problems at the Colorado state Capitol.

Our reporting first uncovered the problems in November, which has led to multiple allegations and investigations into a handful of lawmakers and the historic expulsion of former Democratic Rep. Steve Lebsock.  

For the third time in state history, Colorado lawmakers voted on whether or not to expel one of their peers. The effort failed. In a battle over #MeToo, respectfulness, fairness and principles, Republicans defeated a Democratic resolution to oust Sen. Randy Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs, despite an independent investigation that found allegations of sexual harassment against him credible.

The 17-17 vote went along party lines with one exception: Sen. Ray Scott, R-Grand Junction, voted for expulsion. Sen. Cheri Jahn, an unaffiliated member, voted with Republicans. Baumgardner abstained.

For the second time in a month, Colorado lawmakers are debating whether to eject one of their own amid allegations of sexual harassment. First, it was Steve Lebsock, the former Democratic representative, who was ousted overwhelmingly in the first House vote of its kind in more than a century. At this moment, in an unexpected move, the Senate is poised to begin similar proceedings over Randy Baumgardner, a Republican senator.

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Passing a balanced budget is the only thing Colorado lawmakers are required to do during the annual 120-day legislative session. A strong economy means there is more general fund money to spend on priority items including roads and schools. The 'long bill' as its known has cleared the Democratic-controlled House and now goes to the Senate which is controlled by Republicans.

Senate President Kevin Grantham, R-Canon City, said in a letter that sexual harassment allegations by a former intern against Sen. Jack Tate, R-Centennial, do not amount to sexual harassment.

“I have determined that corrective action based on this complaint is unwarranted, and that this investigation is therefore concluded,” stated Grantham.  He noted that Tate has participated in a mandatory sexual harassment training for legislators and staff, and a voluntary seminar with the Majority Caucus. 

Senate President Kevin Grantham is under scrutiny  for his handling of harassment complaints. Critics say he’s been inconsistent, even partisan, and they question his ability to be fair and help make the Capitol’s culture more professional.

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For the second year in a row, Colorado lawmakers are working on a way to provide funding for the states roadways. In 2017 it was a proposed tax measure that failed. This time around it’s a bonding plan that would lock the state into annual payments coming from the general fund. This is where Democrats and Republicans disagree on the plan.

Lucia Guzman said she had been thinking about her decision to step down as Colorado’s Senate minority leader for weeks. Finally, early on Thursday morning, the Democrat walked onto the Senate floor. It was quiet, mostly empty and she said she removed her name placard from her prominent desk.

“On the one hand it felt like failure and loss, but on the other hand it felt like success and empowerment,” said Guzman.

Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik said she has filed a formal workplace sexual harassment complaint against a fellow senator, Daniel Kagan, alleging that he was inside a restroom designated for female legislators and staff multiple times.

Colorado’s public pension system needs more money to remain viable. The Public Employees Retirement Association, or PERA, is the retirement benefit for teachers and other public employees. Right now, it’s only 58 percent funded. Senate Bill 200 is starting its journey through the legislature and it will need bipartisan support if it is going to pass.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland spoke with Brian Eason of the Denver Post and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal about the bill, and what’s at stake.

As word came this week that yet another round of layoffs were planned for The Denver Post's newsroom, lawmakers at the Capitol worried about what the future would look like with less news. Among those concerned about the fate of news is Rep. Larry Liston, who for years has clipped articles from newspapers to keep track of what's going on. 

More than 100 Senate staff, aides and interns have been warned against speaking to journalists about workplace issues, including sexual harassment, and the trainings aimed at preventing it.

At issue are two emails obtained from Senate sources that say it is a violation of the chamber's policies for workers to grant interviews to reporters. A third email, sent directly to us by the top Senate administrator, asked us to tell members of other news organizations not to approach aides and interns for interviews, but rather to speak with communications secretaries. We didn't act on that request because it's not our role to direct the reporting of other news organizations. 

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