Bente Birkeland

Capitol Coverage Reporter for Rocky Mountain Community Radio

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.

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Bente Birkeland

State lawmakers may come back to the capitol sooner than expected. Gov. John Hickenlooper is considering calling a special legislative session to, among other things, address transportation funding.

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 Chrisanta Duran about some of the major pieces of legislation that passed through the Democratic House and Republican Senate.

A last-minute bill to require oil and gas companies to map information on all of their flow lines and gathering lines is making its way through the statehouse. It’s in response to a house explosion that killed two people in Firestone.

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.

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.

Bente Birkeland talked to statehouse reporters Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal and Peter Marcus with ColoradoPolitics.com about the tragedy and what it could mean for future oil and gas legislation.

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.

The highest legislative priority for the governor and leaders in both parties -- transportation funding -- failed in the Republican- controlled Senate Finance Committee on April 25.

Despite the backing of the Senate President, Democratic House Speaker, chair of the Senate Transportation Committee, and a broad coalition of leading business groups, mayors, county commissioners and other organizations testifying in support, committee members voted along party lines in a 3 to 2 split.

Tracy Olson/Flickr

Wednesday is the deadline to pass the state’s budget for the next fiscal year. Lawmakers have not yet met to finalize the plan. This delay could put the legislature in a tight spot in the final days of session.

Earlier this month, Fort Collins Coloradoan reporter Nick Coltrain won the First Amendment Award at the Society for Professional Journalists’ Top of the Rockies for a battle with Colorado State University. He wanted to know if there were inequities in pay between men and women -- and 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.

A bipartisan measure to give people in rural Colorado financial help to cover high health insurance costs failed in a state Senate committee this week.

Colorado Department of Transportation

Finding ways to fund transportation projects in the state was a top priority for lawmakers this session. But, an effort to send a ballot question to voters this fall is all but dead.

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.

Colorado’s budget handily passed the state Senate on March 29. It has bipartisan support and increased four percent compared to the previous year. In many ways the debate was a microcosm of the entire legislative session. It showed lawmakers working together, complex policy issues,  partisan fights and political statements. It is balanced, as required by the state constitution, but reflects how Colorado lacks enough money to fully fund schools, health care and roads.

Many lawmakers are not happy with how the bill turned out.

Colorado lawmakers still have several significant and complicated bills to work on in the last five weeks of the session.

A proposal that would pave the way for driverless cars in Colorado cleared the House Tuesday with widespread support. Supporters said it will help Colorado prepare for new technology and automation.

Neighborly disputes are nothing new. There’s the dog next door that poops on your lawn. The house that throws loud backyard parties. The guy down the block who always plows through the stop sign.

But in Colorado, the introduction of legal, home-grown marijuana has elevated tension among neighbors to a whole new level.

Because of gaps in the state constitutional amendments that legalized cultivation of the drug for recreational and medical purposes -- and in the ensuing rules that sought to regulate it further -- some rural pockets in Colorado are seeing large-scale cooperative marijuana grow operations sprout up with little oversight.

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 have reached the point in their annual 120-day session where they take up the budget. It grew by roughly 4 percent compared to last year - but it still doesn’t keep up with state expenses. 

New oil and gas drilling operations would have to be built further away from schools than they are now. That's according to a bill that advanced in the House on Wednesday. Democrats backed it after a seven-hour hearing in a packed room at the Capitol.

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