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

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A bill that would allow people to collect rain that falls from their rooftops is hung up in the Senate Agriculture and Natural Resources Committee, after the chair said he wasn't comfortable with the measure. It's not clear when the committee will vote on it.

The same thing happened during the 2015 legislative session when the rain barrel bill vote was delayed. While the bill eventually cleared the committee over the objections of the Republican chair, it failed on the final day of the session when time ran out.

"I didn't plan on today being Groundhog Day, I anticipated that the bill would pass," said state Sen. Michael Merrifield (D-Colorado Springs), sponsor of House Bill 16-1005 [.pdf].

Colorado's next lieutenant governor is poised to be a top executive from Kaiser Foundation Health Plan, Inc.

Gov. John Hickenlooper nominated Donna Lynne, an executive vice president at Kaiser, saying she would be very capable filling his shoes if he doesn't end up finishing his second term. Hickenlooper has long been rumored as a possible cabinet pick for a Democratic President.

"If I were offered something in Washington I would certainly look at it, but especially right now, I could not be happier to be the governor of Colorado," Hickenlooper said.

Every bill at the Colorado legislature must receive a fair hearing… and a vote. That's what state law says, but the fate of many bills is decided before lawmakers even begin the debate. Their fate is sealed in what's called a kill committee.

Several police reform measures are making their way through the statehouse, and lawmakers are also looking at how best to address the problem of teenagers sexting. We asked two reporters working under the gold dome to review the week that was.

Hillary Clinton's wins on Mega Tuesday in Ohio, Florida, Illinois, North Carolina and a virtual tie in Missouri, have moved her closer to securing the Democratic Party nomination. What will that mean for Colorado, which went heavily for her opponent, Bernie Sanders? We asked Democratic State Party Chair Rick Palacio to find out.

Colorado's four month legislative session is halfway over. As is normally the case, the only things lawmakers are required to do is pass a budget. Now that we're at the midpoint, attention can turn to the state's impending budget crunch and another hot topic: reclassifying the hospital provider fee under TABOR.

The Colorado Democratic and Republican parties recently wrapped up their caucuses on Super Tuesday. The 2016 Democratic caucus was notable for the unexpected large turnout – while the GOP canceled their presidential preference poll. Either way, there were gripes. Two lawmakers are planning to introduce a bill to change the state's caucus system and instead add a presidential primary.

Marci Krivonen

A bill seeking to change the mission of Colorado’s energy regulators failed in the Senate Agriculture Committee Wednesday. 

Voters in 12 states either went to the polls or caucused on Super Tuesday. Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders won Colorado's Democratic caucuses. He also grabbed victories in Oklahoma, Minnesota, and in his home state. Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump were the big winners of the night, each taking seven states, on the busiest night so far of the 2016 election season.

Colorado's Republican Party did not take a preference poll for the presidential race – so no winner was declared in the state for the GOP.

Colorado is on the road to becoming the final state in the country to legalize rain barrels, after Democrats reached an agreement with several Republicans who opposed previous versions of the measure.

"It is a water right and what you have done with this, you have protected that water right," said Rep. Don Coram (R-Montrose), who had voted against a rain barrel bill last session.

Now he said he can back it – and other Republicans are also on board with HB 16-1005 [.pdf].

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.

Another attempt in Colorado to allow terminally ill patients to take medication to end their own lives recently failed for the second straight year in the Democratic controlled House.

With strong words for opponents and members of their own party, the sponsors of the End-of-Life Options Bill, known as House Bill 16-1054 [.pdf], pulled it before debate could begin on the floor. The reason behind the withdrawal was a lack of votes and proposed amendments for the bill.

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.

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."

Denver University

Wednesday lawmakers in the Colorado House are scheduled to debate whether terminally ill patients should be allowed to take medication to end their own lives. It’s the first chance for members of the full House to weigh in on the controversial topic. Supporters are still counting votes, according to reporter Bente Birkeland.

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 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.

Colorado could be the next state to allow hunters to wear florescent pink. A Democratic proposal to give hunters the option of wearing pink – in addition to the traditional safety orange – has passed the Republican controlled Senate Agriculture, Natural Resources and Energy Committee.

"I hunt because it's a treasured time with my dad and my brothers," said Senator Kerry Donovan (D-Vail), a big game hunter and sponsor of Senate Bill 68 [.pdf]. "And the stories that happen in hunting camp are the stories that my family tell over and over again."

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."

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