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.

 

Five women are accusing Rep. Steve Lebsock of Thornton of retaliating against them because they went public with allegations of sexual harassment or intimidating behavior by him. They take issue with a 28-page defense that Lebsock delivered to the mailboxes of his fellow House members just before the legislative session began.

The document has ignited anger among some and is the latest chapter in a series of counter-claims by the Democrat who in the  coming weeks faces the possibility of a vote to oust him from the legislature. 

Colorado lawmakers recently headed back to the state capitol for the annual legislative session. It’s the final session for term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper. Statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland talked to Brian Eason of The Denver Post and Ed Sealover with the Denver Business Journal to get their outlook on the coming months.

As Gov. John Hickenlooper delivered his final State of the State address, he received a warm reception from members in both parties. He highlighted some of his successes over his past seven years in office and outlined a broad agenda of what he’d like to see lawmakers accomplish in his last year before he leaves office because of term limits.

Colorado lawmakers returned to the Capitol to begin work on a number of issues such as how to improve the state’s roadways. But amid the usual pomp and circumstance and speeches that usher in the four-month 2018 session, the cloud of sexual harassment allegations loomed large.

Lawmakers head to the gold dome on Jan. 10 to begin Colorado’s annual legislative session. Here are highlights from statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland’s interview with House Minority Leader Patrick Neville about his priorities.

Republican Senate President Kevin Grantham is term limited and sat down with statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland to discuss his focus for his final legislative session.

Speaker of the House Crisanta Duran is heading into her final legislative session as a lawmaker. She talked to statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland about her goals when the session starts up on Jan. 10.

Colorado lawmakers return to the Capitol on Jan. 10 to begin the annual legislative session. For term-limited Gov. John Hickenlooper, he’ll soon be delivering his final state of the state address.

Here are highlights from statehouse reporter Bente Birkeland’s interview with him.

The Capitol is set to hire an independent human resources person in the wake of numerous harassment allegations. It’s not yet clear what role the new HR person would play, but it may take any formal complaints or investigations out of the hands of legislative leadership.

Three lawmakers face formal complaints at the state Capitol alleging sexual harassment. We went to the districts these lawmakers represent to see what their constituents think about the situation. The overall message: sexual harassment shouldn’t be tolerated and there should be consequences should the allegations be proven true.

Kathy Ochsner is a 73-year-old retired secretary who lives in Centennial, south of Denver.

“I think we need to send the message that this is not OK,” she said. “This is not part of the workplace.”

There’s the allegation of a lawmaker who suggested sexual acts and tried to force a colleague to go home with him. Another allegedly grabbed and slapped an aide’s buttocks as she walked in the Capitol. Another claim: A senator would regularly leer, comment on an intern’s clothes and linger, touching her shoulder.

So far, our reporting has prompted four women to file formal sexual harassment complaints against three lawmakers at the state legislature. Just two of those women – Rep. Faith Winter and former lobbyist Holly Tarry – have gone public, willing to be named in their claims against Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat running for state treasurer. Lebsock has denied any wrongdoing. He has refused calls to resign by top leaders in his own party. 

[Update 12/14/17 1:15 p.m.] No charges will be filed against Rep. Lori Saine. The news was announced Dec. 14 by the Boulder district attorney’s office. The case was passed to Boulder because Denver’s district attorney Beth McCann worked closely with Saine when they were both state lawmakers. The Boulder district attorney’s office says Saine “totally forgot the firearm was in her purse and no criminal case against Ms. Saine can be proven beyond a reasonable doubt.” 

A state lawmaker has drafted legislation to remove Rep. Steve Lebsock from office as Lebosck has refused calls for his resignation. It sets the stage for a battle, as allegations of sexual harassment continue at the Colorado Capitol. Lebsock is a Democrat running for state treasurer.

Rep. Matt Gray, also a Democrat, said he will introduce a resolution when lawmakers return to the legislature in January. Gray said he believes the accounts of the women who first accused Lebsock in our stories last month. 

Another woman has decided to file a formal complaint alleging sexual harassment by a lawmaker at Colorado’s Capitol. The former legislative intern alleges that Sen. Jack Tate regularly leered at her and nudged her, making inappropriate comments during the 2017 legislative session.

That raises the number of formal complaints against lawmakers to four. Earlier this month, we reported that Rep. Faith Winter and former lobbyist Holly Tarry filed complaints against Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat, alleging unwanted sexual advances and vulgar and inappropriate discussions.

A former legislative aide has filed a sexual harassment complaint against Republican state Sen. Randy Baumgardner for inappropriately touching her. 

The woman alleges that Baumgardner of Hot Sulphur Springs slapped and grabbed her buttocks about four times over a three month period during the 2016 legislative session when she worked at the State Capitol. She alleges that each incident happened inside the Capitol building during her workday, often while she was walking through a corridor next to the Senate Chamber. 

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.

Gov. John Hickenlooper is calling for the resignation of Rep. Steve Lebsock following allegations he sexually harassed 11 people, including three who are publicly named, one of them a fellow lawmaker. 

"Now that the facts are apparent, he should certainly resign," said Hickenlooper.

A flood of lawmakers are now calling for the resignation for Rep. Steve Lebsock, a Democrat running for state treasurer, in the wake of our reporting on allegations of sexual misconduct.

Meanwhile, a second woman has come forward with additional allegations that raise questions about Lebsock’s behavior at the State Capitol.


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.