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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The latest economic forecast shows state lawmakers will need to close a budget gap that’s close to $700 million this session.

Colorado’s latest revenue forecast shows that state lawmakers will have to fill a larger budget gap than anticipated -- a $696 million gap. Bente Birkeland spoke with other statehouse reporters about what this could mean for the state budget.

There are plenty of things that lead to distracted driving along Colorado’s roadways: eating, putting on makeup or changing the station on your radio. Texting and driving is one distraction state lawmakers want to crack down on. 

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.

A Republican proposal to change how the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) is calculated to let Colorado keep more of the tax money it currently collects received initial approval in the House Tuesday. More Democrats back the bill than Republicans.

State lawmakers are leading an effort to change how the Taxpayers Bill of Rights (TABOR) is calculated. The goal: Let Colorado keep more of the tax money it collects.

Advocates say Senate Bill 40 does something simple: It brings the Colorado Open Records Act into the 21st century by requiring state agencies to provide information in a digital format -- such as a database or a spreadsheet -- where feasible.

“These are the people’s records. We are the custodians, we are the stewards of these records,” said Democratic Sen. John Kefalas of Fort Collins. He’s the main sponsor of the bill.

For some, the issue is more complicated.

More than 400 bills have so far been introduced during Colorado’s annual legislative session. Many of the bills that are controversial are short-lived, even if the debates last for hours. 

JOHN SUTHERS STATE OF THE CITY 2016 / COLORADO SPRINGS

A proposal to study whether passenger rail is viable along the Front Range cleared the State Senate on Thursday. It now heads to the House. 

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.

Republican state Sen. Ray Scott could help define one of the most often used phrases of 2017: fake news. 

The battle centers around an opinion column published in the Grand Junction Daily Sentinel about Senate Bill 40, a bill to increase access to public records. The column implies that a scheduled hearing was postponed because Scott -- who serves as assistant majority leader -- didn’t support it. 

A Colorado newspaper is fighting claims that it peddles fake news stories. The publisher of Grand Junction’s Daily Sentinel is accusing a state lawmaker of defamation and threatening a lawsuit. If filed, legal experts said it would be the first of its kind, potentially setting a legal definition for what is considered fake news and what is not.

The dispute began with an opinion column in the newspaper supporting a bill that would give journalists and others greater access to public records. Sen. Ray Scott, a Republican of Grand Junction who serves as assistant majority leader in the Senate, postponed the hearing and vote.

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.”

Lawmakers serving on the Senate Judiciary Committee will hear a measure to repeal Colorado's death penalty Wednesday. 

UPDATE: 2/16/17. The Senate Finance committee passed SB-153 on a 4-1 vote. The bill now heads to the full Senate.

Original post 2/14/17:

A proposal to study whether it's viable to create passenger rail from southern Colorado to Fort Collins has cleared its first hurdle at the state legislature.

The state Senate initially passed a bill on Monday that would require law enforcement officers in Colorado to be U.S. citizens. The debate touched off a broader discussion on immigration.

In the midst of an ongoing national fight about the future of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, a measure to replace Colorado’s health care exchange is igniting passion in Denver. On Feb. 7, people rallied outside the State Capitol to protest repealing the Affordable Care Act, while inside the capitol, the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on Senate Bill 3, the Repeal Colorado Health Benefit Exchange Bill.

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.

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