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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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 A trio of measures aimed at making it easier for more Coloradans to rent and buy homes cleared its first committee at the state capitol on Thursday. But as Bente Birkeland reports, time is running out for the bills to pass before the legislature adjourns next week.

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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.

STEPHEN BUTLER / FLICKR - CREATIVE COMMONS

With less than two weeks left in the state’s annual legislative session, lawmakers still have some big items they want to tackle. Bente Birkeland sat down with statehouse reporters as part of our capitol conversation series to discuss the end of the session.

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.

A Colorado commission studying American Indian representations in public schools released a report that recommends that schools not use American Indian mascots. However, if the schools do choose to do so, they should partner with a tribe to make sure it is done in a respectful way.

Right now, 30 Colorado schools use some type of American Indian mascot or imagery.

Bernie Sanders will be assured the majority of Colorado's delegates at the 2016 Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia. Hillary Clinton though, still has momentum in the state with the support of super delegates, like Gov. John Hickenlooper and U.S. Sen. Michael Bennet. The support of party insiders means Clinton will likely have 37 delegates from the state versus Sanders' 41.

Which still makes it an open question for Colorado: If the state is pulling for Bernie Sanders, but the super delegates lean for Clinton, will voters opt to support Clinton if she's the nominee?

Colorado schools may soon be forced to allow students to use medical marijuana in a non-smokeable form while on school grounds. It's already allowed under state law – but no districts have created access policies, leaving many families frustrated.

To remedy this, House Bill 16-1373 [.pdf] has been proposed to require all school districts – even those without policies – to allow parents or caregivers to administer medical marijuana on school grounds. To find out more about the debate, we talked to reporters working under the gold dome.

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Colorado Democrats will gather in Loveland on Saturday to elect their final group of delegates to the National Convention in Philadelphia this summer.

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A bill to ban what's known as "rolling coal" has initially passed in the Colorado House of Representatives Wednesday. Bente Birkeland has more.  

ANITA MARTINEZ, COLORADO PARKS AND WILDLIFE / DIVISION OF WILDLIFE

It will now be legal for Colorado hunters to wear florescent pink next hunting season, after Governor John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law late Tuesday/earlier this week. Bente Birkeland has more.  

Colorado schools may soon be forced to allow students to use medical marijuana in a non-smokeable form while on school grounds. It's already allowed under state law – but no districts have created access policies, leaving many families frustrated.

A bill [.pdf] under consideration at the capitol would require all school districts – even those without policies – to allow parents or caregivers to administer medical marijuana on school grounds, typically in the nurse's office. Students would not be allowed to take the cannabis tablet or put on the patch or oil themselves.

"Let's make sure they have the medication they need, and do it in an appropriate way," said state Rep. Jonathan Singer (D-Longmont), House Bill 16-1373's sponsor.

Just three months out from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Republican Party remains very much divided over their candidates for president. Ted Cruz closed Donald Trump's lead Saturday, sweeping all of Colorado's 34 open delegates at the GOP state assembly in Colorado Springs.

Republicans here though are as split as anywhere else in the country over the race.

Colorado is debating whether to form an office of fantasy sports — to regulate and create rules around pay-for-play fantasy leagues. The industry estimates that 800,000 people in the Centennial State are fantasy sports players, and 150,000 pay in the daily sports leagues.

So why does the legislature want make a play here?

Courtesy of Martin Ringlein via Flickr.com

 

Colorado is debating whether to form an office of fantasy sports, to regulate and create rules around pay for play fantasy sports leagues.

Republican Party activists are gathering Saturday in Colorado Springs for the state GOP convention. Delegates will be chosen to attend the 2016 Republican National Convention in Cleveland. Sen. Ted Cruz is already confirmed to attend. Donald Trump will not make the trip to Colorado to address the state assembly, nor hold a rally. John Kasich has also announced he is not coming.

Initially, the state's conservative party was criticized for not holding a presidential preference poll during the March caucus. Now, as the national race seems destined to be heading toward a contested convention, the emphasis on delegates has given Colorado renewed importance.

The Democratic-controlled House passed the state budget Friday with five Republicans backing it. The bill now heads to the Republican-controlled Senate. What can we expect from the debate in that chamber?

Archive Roger Adams

A measure that would make it easier to sue oil and gas operators when energy development is linked to earthquakes initially cleared the House March 17. Bente Birkeland has more...

Health insurance premiums can vary widely in Colorado depending on where you live — it's just one of the factors health insurance companies use to calculate prices. Mountain regions continue to have some of the highest premiums in the country. At the statehouse, House Bill 16-1336 [.pdf] would look at treating the entire state as one region, rather than continuing to group regions separately.

"Our current insurance payment of $1,508 a month is equivalent to our mortgage payment. We can't afford it," said Richard Backe, a Garfield County small-business owner. "There are numerous people in the mountain district with the same story. We are the healthiest counties in the state, and we have the highest insurance rates."

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