KUNC

Colorado experienced three natural disasters that each caused more than a billion dollars in damages in 2018.

Last year, the town of Avon got little resistance from its residents when it asked them to approve a $3 tax on every pack of cigarettes sold in the town.

Town Council member Scott Prince said it was supported by more than 70 percent of voters.

"There was zero campaigning done on behalf of that tax measure," Prince said. "It really speaks volumes about the residents and how much people see the impacts of tobacco and cigarette products."

At his one-room apartment, 35-year-old Abul Basar made a tight fist with his right hand. As he opened his palm, his ring finger remained bent and rigid. "It's locked my finger, (it) doesn't work," he said.

Basar came to the area as a refugee in 2017 after escaping violent persecution in his former country of Burma, also known as Myanmar. He said he fled to Bangladesh and then Thailand and eventually Indonesia, where he was detained for nearly a year by immigration authorities. Today, he's relieved to be in the U.S.

The Trump administration has cut the number of refugees allowed to settle in the U.S., citing security concerns and a desire that they remain closer to their home countries. Last year, 981 found homes in Colorado — far fewer than in years past.

The change has created a degree of sadness among those hoping to bring their families here, said Kit Taintor, Colorado's refugee resettlement coordinator.

"There's a lot of refugees who live and reside in Colorado, and call it home, who have been waiting for the opportunity to rejoin with family members who are still overseas," said Taintor.

This week, KUNC is sharing stories from our state's refugee community.

Each winter, anxious water managers, farmers and city leaders in the American Southwest turn their eyes toward the snowy peaks of the southern Rocky Mountains.

The piling snow is a massive frozen reservoir, and its depth and weight can foreshadow the year ahead. Millions of dollars are spent divining what a heavy or light snowpack means for the region's reservoirs, for its booming cities, for its arid farmland.

Health care is emerging as a top priority for both Democratic and Republicans at the State Capitol this session, and some of the proposed legislation is already packing hearing rooms.

One of the bills would add autism to a list of conditions that can be treated with medical marijuana. Similar legislation was vetoed by former Gov. John Hickenlooper last year.

Special interest groups poured money into 16 hot political races across the country in 2018, including the one in which Democratic Rep. Jason Crow ousted five-term Republican Mike Coffman.

The U.S. Supreme Court issued its ruling that allowed unlimited spending by groups to elect or defeat candidates in 2010. A record level of spending fueled the 2018 election cycle.

Colorado is far from Washington, D.C., but impacts of the partial government shutdown are hitting the state's workforce.

More than 2,000 federal workers in Colorado have applied for unemployment since the shutdown began last month. Most are in Jefferson County, but a large concentration also work in Boulder, Larimer and Weld Counties.

Cheers from environmental groups drowned out nearby construction noise in downtown Denver Thursday morning after Gov. Jared Polis announced an executive order that aims to bring more electric vehicles to Colorado.

North Colorado Medical Center in Greeley and four other Banner Health hospitals have formally launched a new way to treat pain in their emergency departments.

When appropriate, medical providers will replace opioid medication with a non-opioid alternative (or ALTO).

Following one of the hottest and driest years on record, the Colorado River and its tributaries throughout the western U.S. are likely headed for another year of low water.

That’s according to an analysis by the Western Water Assessment at the University of Colorado Boulder. Researcher Jeff Lukas, who authored the briefing, says water managers throughout the Colorado River watershed should brace themselves for diminished streams and the decreasing likelihood of filling the reservoirs left depleted at the end of 2018.

The briefing relies on data from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey and the Natural Resources Conservation Service among others.

According to a report from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, 77 workers were killed in 2017, a 5 percent decrease from 81 deaths in 2016. Roberta Smith, an occupational health program manager with the department, said the majority of deaths were related to transportation, or driving on the job.

Gov. Jared Polis wants to leverage Colorado's stronger than expected revenue projections to pay for full-day kindergarten next school year.

He's asking lawmakers to approve $227 million in the budget for the kindergarten classes.

Polis says the spending will allow 30,000 families to stop paying tuition.

Thornton resident Jennifer Hubby is worried about paying her family's mortgage on time.

Her wife, a former Army medic, gets a monthly housing and education stipend from her GI Bill. Hubby said it's "very unclear" what's going to happen to that income as the shutdown — now on its 20th day — drags on.

Physician Morgan Hungenburg is in the second year of her medical residency program. Since August she's been training in family medicine at Salud Family Health Center in Fort Morgan.

"I really like the continuity of family medicine," Hungenburg said. "We call it 'womb to tomb.' I like that wide age range because I like pediatrics, but I also like geriatrics. I kind of get a little bit of everything."

As Colorado's new lawmakers showed off their desks to their kids on Wednesday, Gov. John Hickenlooper was busy cleaning out his own. He was down to his final days as the head of state government.

Signed baseball bats and other memorabilia were scattered on the floor of his office. His desk was littered with piles of old papers.

Colorado Democrats promised to pass paid family leave, address the rising cost of health care and pursue a gun control measure on Friday as they gaveled in a new legislative session.

New House Speaker KC Becker, D-Boulder, called gun violence in the state an “epidemic” that needs to be addressed this session.

On this week's Colorado Edition, how a small increase in the minimum wage is having a big impact on businesses and workers. Other stories this week include a look at what the new farm bill means for the hemp market and a visit with a big, concrete reminder of an ugly part of Colorado history.

This past year has been a difficult one for U.S. farmers, and Colorado was no exception. From the rising cost of production, to the imposition of foreign tariffs and falling prices for commodities like wheat and soybeans, 2018 held many challenges for local agriculture.

At least 196 furloughed federal employees in Colorado have applied for unemployment benefits from the state, a number that will likely rise as the government enters its second week of a partial shutdown.

On this week's Colorado Edition - the last episode of 2018 - we look at lawmakers' plans to address high insurance rates on the Western Slope. Other stories this week include what ski resorts are doing to combat climate change and one man's personal debate on whether he should start carrying a gun.

Every year, kids across the globe follow Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve journey from the North Pole. The source of the information is NORAD, the North American Aerospace Defense Command, in Colorado Springs.

Last December the NORADSanta.org website received 18 million visits from people around the globe speaking many different languages - along with evidence that kids still use phones. There were 126,000 calls last year to NORAD's Santa line.

Jena Griswold, who will soon become Colorado's first Democratic Secretary of State in 60 years, has announced who will help her lead the office.

Meanwhile, outgoing Secretary of State Wayne Williams told the Colorado Springs Gazette he is thinking about running for city council next year.

Parents and teachers who traveled to Denver on Dec. 18 to watch the Colorado Oil and Gas Commission increase the buffer zones between schools and oil and gas wells didn't have much praise for the state board.

Instead, they questioned why the state wasn't going even further to protect students. They also raised the prospect of another ballot initiative to extend the setbacks if state lawmakers don't act in the upcoming session.

At Christmastime, Santa Claus gets all kinds of requests - from dump trucks to Barbie dolls to Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

But no matter what the must-buy toy of the season is, there’s one that always embodies the epitome of the holiday season.

“Christmas is when all of America are model railroaders, they just don’t know they are,” said Michelle Kempema, executive director of the Colorado Model Railroad Museum. “Trains and Christmas -- we put them under our trees. We see them when we go to the malls. We go, and we look at train layouts in store windows. It’s a joy for us.”

Newly released data from the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment shows a sustained increase in the number of syphilis cases in newborn babies. A total of 18 cases of congenital syphilis were reported in Colorado from 2013 to 2018.

“Colorado’s case numbers still are small, but even one case of syphilis in a newborn is too many,” said Dr. Daniel Shodell, deputy director of the CDPHE’s Disease Control and Environmental Epidemiology Division.

Out of the dozens of lawmakers who hold leadership positions at the State Capitol, only five live on the Western Slope. State Rep. Dylan Roberts is one of them. The Democrat from Avon will lead the state's new Rural Affairs Committee. He says the rising cost of health insurance will be at the top of his agenda when the session starts next month.

OPEC and other foreign oil producers said Friday they’re scaling back production by about 1.2 million barrels a day. That could be good news for oil producers in the Mountain West but perhaps not so good for consumers.

The discovery of potentially dangerous pesticide residue on marijuana has led to two product recalls in Colorado. The alerts have raised questions about consumer safety and the regulation of one of the state's fastest-growing industries.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced that the U.S. life expectancy continues to decline. This trend is driven in part by an increase is drug overdoses and suicide. The Mountain West is especially vulnerable when it comes to suicide.

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