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.

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.

Colorado currently has one of the strictest teen sexting laws in the country. If convicted of sending sexual images with a cellphone, youth between the ages of 14 and 18 could face felony child pornography charges and be ordered to register as a sex offender.

Colorado’s $28.6 billion budget is nearing the end of its legislative journey.

Each year, the six-member, bipartisan Joint Budget Committee crafts a balanced budget before sending it to the House and Senate for amendments. The JBC then has to reconcile those changes.

But in most cases, they go back to the original budget they spend months writing.

This year, the the House and Senate have added about 30 amendments to the so-called “long bill”.

Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper is term limited and the race to succeed him in 2018 is already underway. Some big names have recently announced their campaigns and much earlier than usual. The moves could impact one of the biggest agenda items still facing lawmakers during this year’s legislative session – transportation funding.

Ed Sealover, a reporter for The Denver Business Journal, and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com, spoke to Bente Birkeland about the race.

The $28.6 billion state budget is making its way through the legislature. It covers everything from roads and health care to schools and prisons. Despite many lawmakers wanting significant changes, it overwhelmingly cleared the Senate.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland discussed the politics behind the budget with reporters John Frank with The Denver Post and Nic Garcia with ChalkBeat.

Lawmakers are midway through this year’s legislative session and the big issue at the halfway mark is what to do about funding transportation. Democratic and Republican leaders are backing the idea of asking voters this fall if they support a tax increase to address those needs. The issue is poised to dominate the second half of the session.

“If there is going to be a long-term solution to transportation infrastructure it’s going to almost certainly require something that the voters are going to weigh in on,” said Senate President Kevin Grantham, a Republican. He made that comment late last year, prior to the January start of the session, and has kept the promise, backing House Bill 1142, which would add millions of dollars for transportation needs.

As Colorado’s legislative session reaches the halfway point, lawmakers have introduced more than 400 bills. Many bills cover controversial topics and are short-lived, though the debates and hearings can last hours. So why do lawmakers spend so much time on legislation that never sees the light of day?

For some, it’s intended to send a message. Others are aiming for long-term goals.

Recreational marijuana clubs, also called social lounges, are allowed in some Colorado communities, but state law is murky on whether or not their existence is legal and how they should be regulated. Two proposals currently moving through the legislature aim to add clarity by requiring either voters or local governments to approve the clubs.

Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland sat down with Kristen Wyatt with the Associated Press and Luke Perkins with the Durango Herald to discuss the details.

Colorado is roughly a third of the way through the four-month long legislative session. John Frank, a reporter for The Denver Post, and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to take stock of the big issues this session.

A news outlet publishes a story that a Republican politician dismisses as "fake news." Sounds familiar, right?

But in this case, there's a twist. The Grand Junction Daily Sentinel in Colorado is accusing state Sen. Ray Scott of defamation and threatening to sue. If filed, legal experts said it would be the first suit of its kind, potentially setting a legal definition for what is considered fake news and what is not.

In the last decade, Democrats have attempted to repeal Colorado's death penalty four times. Their latest attempt on Feb. 15 was amid contentious debate. Senate Minority Leader Lucia Guzman (D-Denver)  was behind the effort. She knew the odds were against her, but even before the hearing, she said she wanted to raise awareness to the moral and social issues surrounding the death penalty.

“There are a lot of people willing and wanting to learn more and more about the problems with it, the challenges of it, and we need to keep that message going,” she said. “I don’t think we’ll lose the battle, because the battle is long-term.”

A proposal to repeal Colorado’s healthcare exchange and move to the federal program has prompted a lot of debate at the State Capitol. It has also set off a larger fight about the future of the Affordable Care Act.

Here are highlights from our discussion with John Frank, a reporter for The Denver Post and Ed Sealover, a reporter for The Denver Business Journal. They discussed Senate Bill 3, which seeks to repeal Connect for Health Colorado.

Law enforcement officers in Colorado would be required to be U.S. citizens under a new measure that cleared the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6.

During the opening days of the 2017 Colorado legislative session, lawmakers and the governor outlined their priorities for the good of the people in the centennial state. But are elected officials in line with your priorities and concerns?  We asked Coloradans from across the state to weigh in.

Coloradans hope politicians work together

Republican Kevin Grantham will lead the state Senate in 2017, where his party held onto its one-seat majority. He represents District 2, located in north-central Colorado and includes northwestern Denver suburbs,  and says he’s the first rural Senate president in over four decades.

A state court ruled on Dec. 13 that Colorado’s nine presidential electors must vote for the winner of the popular vote in Colorado, Hillary Clinton. The court also said if a presidential elector fails to vote for Clinton, that elector would be removed and replaced.  

“Ultimately we’re a nation of laws and so we need to have the ability to make decisions, and people need to know their vote is going to count,” said Republican Secretary of State Wayne Williams.

One of the first items on President-elect Donald Trump’s to-do list when he takes office will be to nominate a Supreme Court justice. While campaigning, Trump released a list of possible nominees, which included three judges from Colorado: Chief Judge Timothy Michael Tymkovich and Judge Neil McGill Gorsuch, both serving on the 10th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, and Justice Allison Hartwell Eid of the Colorado Supreme Court. 

As Election Day nears, television ads for Colorado’s senate candidates are blanketing the airwaves. Despite that, the campaigns of incumbent Democrat Sen. Michael Bennet and Republican challenger Darryl Glenn, an El Paso County Commissioner, have been relatively quiet. Both have been criticized for not holding more debates.

Bennet has refused to participate in several debates including one hosted by the Pueblo Chieftain, while Glenn turned down a debate hosted by The Denver Post.

The main party candidates in Colorado’s U.S. Senate race square off Tuesday for their only televised debate. The interest in the battle between the incumbent, Democrat Michael Bennet, and his Republican challenger, Darryl Glenn, so far has been low-key. That’s especially the case when compared to two years ago when Mark Udall, a Democrat, was defeated by Republican Cory Gardner in one of the most-watched contests in the country.

Progressives have long fought for a single-payer health care system. The question as to whether Colorado should create one is on this November’s ballot. The supporters of Amendment 69, also known as ColoradoCare, say their system would be better than the current one created through Obamacare. It would be cheaper, they say, and ensure that no person is left without coverage. Opponents say the system is a massive tax hike that is not sustainable.

2016 hasn’t been a good year for people who want to restrict oil and gas development in Colorado. Now the failure to collect enough valid signatures to put two anti-fracking initiatives on the November ballot means no foreseeable resolution to an issue that has divided the state.

"This is not the end of this fight," said Pete Maysmith, the executive director of the environmental group Conservation Colorado. His group endorsed initiative 75, which would have allowed local governments to enact their own laws to prevent or mitigate local impacts from oil and gas development.

Access to something as simple as a doctor can be near impossible in the more rural parts of Colorado. The issue is especially pronounced along the Eastern Plains, leading state officials to embark on a new training program. The objective is to recruit and train more family practice physicians in places like Sterling, a city of about 15,000 people that’s 130 miles northeast of Denver.

Following Hillary Clinton's acceptance speech at the final night of the DNC, Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump made a stop in Colorado Springs to try and gain momentum in a swing state that has so far provided lukewarm support.

"There is no reason we shouldn't win this state, heavy military and tremendous respect for law and order," Trump said. "We want law and order, we want a great military, we want our vets to be so happy."

Data continues to show that where a person lives in Colorado plays a big role in dictating how much they pay for health insurance. That's because insurers use it to calculate premiums and in some regions it's unusually high. State lawmakers are aware of the problem – but are not sure what the solution is.

"I was seeing upwards of $500 a month," said Sam Higby, a Breckenridge outdoor gear shop employee. He's 35 and healthy, but said on his salary he simply can't afford healthcare.

"It does weigh on me as an active person, being concerned about what might happen out there."

American Indian mascots draw controversy. They're most visible as the logos of sports teams… and some in Colorado call some of the symbols racist. Efforts at the state Legislature to try and ban the use or restrict the mascots at schools have failed. That hasn't stopped some schools from working with tribes to find the middle ground.

Strasburg, Colorado, is where the last spike was hammered in the nation's coast-to-coast railroad in 1870. This tiny town about an hour east of Denver is also home to the Indians, Strasburg High School's sports teams.

Colorado has a new head of the state's Department of Natural Resources. Appointed by Gov. John Hickenlooper, Bob Randall now gets the official nod as head of the organization that oversees everything from state parks and wildlife, to oil and gas drilling, mining and water conservation.

It's crunch time for the Republicans striving to be the nominee to campaign against Democrat Michael Bennet in Colorado's U.S. Senate race. The primary is still wide-open, and when the mail ballots are counted June 28, each candidate has a plausible shot of winning.

"I cannot pick a frontrunner. I couldn't even come close to picking a frontrunner," said political consultant Eric Sondermann.

"There's not a dominant figure in this race."

Colorado Republicans were mixed on the news that Ted Cruz and John Kasich dropped out of the presidential race. That leaves New York businessman Donald Trump as the apparent nominee. He has rattled the Republican Party establishment, and there's a lot of political calculating going on from the GOP as well as the Democrats.

The message from Colorado Republicans after the state convention was clear: We want Cruz. Much like with the state's Dems, who mostly lean toward Bernie Sanders, what happens if the preferred nominee isn't the final candidate?

A bill is making its way through the statehouse that would allow judges to re-examine the cases of juveniles sentenced to life without parole. A 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling made it unconstitutional for minors to have no possibility of parole -- except in the most extraordinary circumstances.

The court said it was cruel and unusual punishment. Currently 48 youth in Colorado were given mandatory life sentences prior to that ruling, many for heinous crimes.

"Murder is never OK, taking someone's life is never OK, but should we ever allow a second chance, a second look?" asked Senator Cheri Jahn (D-Wheat Ridge), one of the main sponsors of a bipartisan bill that cleared the Senate 32-3.

The Colorado Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the city of Longmont's hydraulic fracturing ban and the moratorium in Fort Collins Monday. The state's highest court said that Longmont's ban conflicts with state law and is invalid and unenforceable. The court ruled that state law also preempts the moratorium in Fort Collins.

Lawmakers in both parties have unveiled a proposal to bring a presidential primary back to Colorado. It's estimated that conducting a primary will cost anywhere from $5 to $7 million. Despite the price tag, the heads of both the state Democratic and Republican parties and Gov. John Hickenlooper support it.

We asked two reporters working at the capitol on a daily basis what that means.

Pages