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.

Colorado's Republican and Democratic caucuses will be held on Super Tuesday, March 1, 2016. There's a difference this year though. Colorado's Republican Party leaders canceled their traditional presidential preference poll at the precinct caucuses. The state's Democrats will conduct a poll.

2016 has brought record turnout and excitement to GOP presidential primary events – especially with the emergence of Donald Trump as the party's frontrunner. Why would the state's Republicans pass on that? We asked Steve House, the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party.

Update 5.13.2016: Gov. John Hickenlooper has signed legislation finally legalizing rain barrels. Our original story continues below.

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Colorado is the only state in the country where it is illegal to capture rainwater for use at a later time. State lawmakers are once again debating whether to allow residents to use rain barrels to collect precipitation that falls from their roofs.

"This is really straightforward," said Representative Jessie Danielson (D-Wheat Ridge), one of the main sponsor's of House Bill 16-1005 [.pdf]. "You could use that water when you see fit, for your tomato plants or flower gardens."

Colorado residents have vastly different health outcomes, based in part on where they live in the state. Rocky Mountain PBS News analyzed health data from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation to rank each of the state's 64 counties based on a variety of health indicators from obesity, to amount of exercise, to smoking and premature deaths.

A bill that would have allowed terminally ill patients to take medication to end their own lives has failed in the Colorado Legislature. The main sponsors asked lawmakers to defeat the bill before it could be debated by the full House.

"The choice we made today, was to give you the relief from having to have this conversation because we know many of you have deeply held convictions that make you uncomfortable with this bill," said state Rep. Lois Court (D-Denver). "We are doing you this favor, to not have this debate, but make no mistake the voice of the people of this state will be heard."

Colorado is, overall, one of the healthiest states in the country – but things are starting to change as the population grows and ages. One of the unintended side effects is a widening disparity between the healthiest and least healthy counties.

New data indicates disparities across geographic regions; with people living in the mountain communities generally ranking as the healthiest in Colorado. In part due to the things that attract people to the state to begin with.

"The amount of sunshine, the world class skiing, hiking, fly fishing, the ability to go right outside your backyard and experience nature," said Democratic Summit County commissioner Dan Gibbs.

Colorado lawmakers are divided over whether a hospital provider fee should be reclassified in the state budget so it doesn't count toward the state's revenue limit under the Tax Payer's Bill of Rights.

State legislators discussed a number of law enforcement and criminal justice bills this past week along with some other controversial measures.

A bill to expand a state program to offer driver's licenses for undocumented immigrants in Colorado will be introduced at the state capitol later in February. The original law [.pdf], which Democrats passed when they controlled both chambers in 2013, allows undocumented immigrants who have lived in Colorado for at least two years and have paid taxes to get a license, if they pay an extra fee.

"I want to know when I'm driving that the people driving next to me know the same rules as I do. Especially when you come from a different country, road signs might look different," said Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), sponsor of a new bill that would expand the program to 32 driver's license offices across the state.

"They deserve the opportunity to show that they are willing to be a part of our community, willing to play by the rules."

State lawmakers are debating whether terminally ill patients with less than six months to live should be allowed to take medication to end their own lives. It's just one of several controversial bills being debated under the gold dome.

Roughly three weeks into Colorado's annual legislative session, a lot of bills are starting to get their first hearings. We've heard the priorities of the leaders and the governor, as well as some of the more interesting bills.

But 2016 is an election year, and a presidential one no less. How will politics impact the bills being heard in committees?

Lawmakers have introduced the first wave of bills as part of the annual legislative session. To learn what's in store, we asked reporters who work daily under the dome at the capitol.

Two prominent Democratic state senators could lose their jobs after lawmakers passed sweeping gun control laws following the theater shooting in Auro, Colo., and the Newtown school shooting in Connecticut. Gun rights activists collected enough signatures to force the historic recall elections.

The recalls follow a combative and bitter legislative session. Among the most controversial measures passed were universal background checks and limiting high-capacity magazines to 15 rounds.

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