Bente Birkeland

Bente Birkeland has been reporting on state legislative issues for KUNC and Rocky Mountain Community Radio since 2006. Originally, from Minnesota, Bente likes to hike and ski in her spare time. She keeps track of state politics throughout the year but is especially busy during the annual legislative session from January through early May.

 

New claims of sexual harassment have been brought up at the Colorado legislature involving Sens. Randy Baumgardner and Jack Tate. Both, in comments to us, strongly deny any wrongdoing, although they refused to answer our specific questions directly.

Megan Creeden, an intern who was 25 at the time, told us she had many uncomfortable encounters with Baumgardner during the 2016 legislative session. She said Baumgardner often pressured her to drink with him in his office and she didn’t want to be with him in his office alone because she didn’t know him.

On Tuesday state Rep. Steve Lebsock went on the offensive regarding the sexual harassment allegations against him, claiming he was being blackmailed in an effort to force him to resign his House seat.

“This is a story about blackmail and coercion and extortion, is what this is,” he said.


Colorado’s Speaker of the House is calling on Democratic Representative Steve Lebsock to resign after allegations of sexual misconduct and harassment. As Bente Birkeland reports, Lebsock’s chairmanship of the House Local Government Committee has temporarily been removed.

A project to create a passenger rail line from Fort Collins to Pueblo – and even further – is still in its early stages. The Southwest Chief and Front Range Passenger Rail Commission in charge of the project briefed state lawmakers on Thursday.

Jacob Riger, the vice-chair of the Commission said the group would spend part of next year establishing a preferred route for the line.

A group of Colorado lawmakers are working to lower health insurance premiums for residents on the individual market created in the wake of the Affordable Care Act. Rates are predicted to rise 34 percent on average next year. There are concerns that healthy people will opt out of coverage and that could cause rates to rise even higher as the insurance risk pool thins out.

Bob Collins, a small business owner and the father of three in Thornton, said the rise will cost him $18,000 to cover his family next year. That’s a significant increase to what he pays now.

A political gamble taken by Gov. John Hickenlooper to fix a mistake in a bipartisan bill that he signed has come up short. After two days and $50,000 from taxpayers, no legislation was passed during the special legislative session.

Even before lawmakers began, Republican Senate leaders were steadfastly opposed to it. They thought the issue wasn’t an emergency, wasn’t well thought out or planned, and didn’t think the Governor had done enough to loop them into discussions to try to broker a compromise.

For only the second time during his tenure as governor, John Hickenlooper is calling lawmakers back to the Capitol outside of their regular session. He wants them to fix an error that is keeping thousands of dollars from getting to the Denver Zoo and regional transportation districts.

But a special session may not lead to a simple fix.

Colorado is a resilient state. The unemployment rate is among the lowest in the nation and the population along the Front Range is booming. It’s easy to see the impact of a strong economy in Denver. Construction cranes are up all over the city and it’s harder than ever to find affordable housing.

But it’s a different story in many parts of western Colorado.

While Colorado’s congressional delegation had mixed reactions to President Donald Trump’s decision to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, many continue to show bipartisan support for the policy. The executive order, signed by President Obama, gave children brought into the United States illegally a chance to stay in the country legally.

After President Trump tweeted that the U.S. military would no longer “allow or accept” transgender people to serve, troops on the ground were left with uncertainty. Military leaders say the policy won’t change until top Pentagon officials figure out how to implement it.

Emma Shinn is a 41-year-old Coloradan and veteran. She served in the Marine Corps for 20 years before retiring in 2014. When she served there was a ban on transgender people. Last year, she transitioned.  

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.