Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent

Since January 2004, Austin Jenkins has been the Olympia-based political reporter for the Northwest News Network. In that position, Austin covers Northwest politics and public policy, as well as the Washington State Legislature. You can also see Austin on television as host of TVW's (the C–SPAN of Washington State) Emmy-nominated public affairs program "Inside Olympia."

Prior to joining the Northwest News Network, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise.

Austin is a graduate of Garfield High School in Seattle and Connecticut College in New London, Connecticut. In 2019, he received his Master of Communication in Digital Media from the University of Washington Communication Leadership program. 

Austin's reporting has been recognized with awards from the Association of Capitol Reporters and Editors, Public Radio News Directors Incorporated and the Society of Professional Journalists. Austin was part of a team that won a 2018 national Edward R. Murrow award for breaking news coverage.

Ways to Connect

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In Olympia, May Day protesters faced-off with police in riot gear Wednesday night. But the two sides did not clash. A group of about 50 mostly young people – some of them wearing face masks - marched for more than an hour through the streets of downtown Olympia, disrupting traffic.

“One, two, three, Anarchists are we. We fight beside the working class and kill the bourgeois,” they chanted.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

A May Day march in Olympia remained peaceful Wednesday. Protesters had planned what they called a “shut down the banks” party.

There were about 60 marchers. Some of them wore bandanas to disguise their identifies, although most went without. They marched through the streets of downtown Olympia and tied up some traffic. They passed by some of the corporate bank branches in downtown Olympia -- Chase, Bank of America, and U.S. Bank. But there was no vandalism or property damage.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

In the first three months of this year, lobbyists in Washington state spent more than $200,000 on entertainment. Much of that money was spent to wine and dine state lawmakers during the just-concluded 105-day session. But what are lobbyists and their clients getting in exchange for picking up the tab?

After the legislative day ends up at the Capitol, it’s pretty common for some of the players to decamp. They go to one of a handful of usually higher-end Olympia establishments. This is where – over a meal, perhaps a bottle of Washington wine – the work continues.

Columbia River Crossing

When Washington lawmakers return to Olympia in two weeks for a special session, Governor Jay Inslee is demanding they approve funding for the new Columbia River Crossing. The Democrat wants that funding included in a broader gas tax measure. But the governor faces opposition from the state senate - especially one powerful southwest Washington Republican: Senator Don Benton.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network


The Washington legislature has adjourned after a 105-day session. The final gavels fell just after 6 p.m. Sunday night.

“The 2013 regular session of the 63rd legislature is adjourned Sine Die," declared Lt. Gov. Brad Owen to applause.

But the adjournment won’t last long. Governor Jay Inslee immediately called a special session for two weeks from now because the House and Senate failed to come to agreement on a two-year budget. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

An expected special session of the Washington legislature would mean another freeze on political fundraising. State law prohibits lawmakers from soliciting contributions while they are in session. For most members that’s probably not a huge concern since this is an off-election year. But a few legislators will be on this year’s ballot.

The so-called session freeze on fundraising lifts at 12:01am on the day after adjournment. It goes back into effect at 12:01am on the first day of a special session. You can bet candidates will make the most of whatever window they get.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network files

Governor Jay Inslee is like the gambler. He says it would take an “inside straight” for the legislature to complete its work by Sunday’s deadline. 

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

It’s been nearly two months since the Washington Supreme Court tossed out a voter-approved two-thirds requirement for tax hikes. Monday anti-tax activist Tim Eyman proposed an initiative he describes as a “lobbying tool” to bring back the super majority rule.

It appears more likely Washington lawmakers will go into an overtime session. The regular 105-day session ends this Sunday. But the House and Senate, along with the governor, still have to agree on a two-year budget deal. Even if a deal was at hand -- and it doesn’t appear one is -- they’d be cutting it close.

Washington House Democrats are getting praise and scorn for their proposed $1.3 billion tax package for schools. At a public hearing Friday lawmakers heard tales of hardship from people for and against the tax measure.

US Department of Transportation

Washington Governor Jay Inslee and lawmakers want to move swiftly to crack down on repeat drunk drivers. This after two recent high profile tragedies in Seattle. But Thursday they got some pushback from judges, prosecutors, civil libertarians and even the restaurant industry.

It’s a classic case of the devil’s in the details. Take ignition interlock devices. There’s a proposal to install them at the impound lot after a drunk driver is arrested. But the installers say that isn’t technically feasible and lawyers question whether it’s legal prior to a conviction.

Washington Governor Jay Inslee says he would apply a "broad" interpretation to the term “law enforcement” when issuing fictitious driver licenses to undercover agents. The governor’s comment follows our report that the CIA has obtained nearly 300 so-called confidential Washington driver licenses since 2007.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

For the second time this week, minority Democrats in the Washington Senate have tried to force a vote on a controversial insurance measure that deals with abortion coverage. The parliamentary move Wednesday highlights partisan tensions as the deadline for adjournment approaches.

Democrat Karen Keiser led the effort to revive the so-called Reproductive Parity Act. On the floor of the Senate, she said the bill has enough votes to pass. “But," she said, "the Majority Caucus leadership has been not inclined to bring this bill to the floor.”

Washington Department of Licensing

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington House has voted to allow the Department of Licensing to continue to issue fictitious driver licenses to undercover police officers. But with new safeguards. Even so, the vote Tuesday came over the objections of some Republicans.

The Department of Licensing has issued so-called confidential driver licenses for decades. But it never had direct authorization from the legislature to do so. The program is supposed to be for law enforcement officers.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Repeat drunk drivers in Washington may soon carry a scarlet letter driver license and have to wear an alcohol detection bracelet. Those are just two of the requirements contained in DUI legislation proposed Tuesday in Olympia.

The bipartisan plan follows two recent drunk driving tragedies in the Seattle area.

Central Intelligence Agency

Editor's note: This story does not contain any identifying details of undercover officers from law enforcement agencies or agents of the Central Intelligence Agency. Instead, it includes aggregate numbers of confidential licenses issued by the state of Washington to local, state and federal agencies. This is consistent with what the Washington Department of Licensing has proposed to release under pending legislation in Olympia.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – More than 60 lobbyists in Washington have been sent warning letters. That’s because they failed to submit monthly reports that detail how much they earned and how much they spent to lobby state lawmakers.

The warning letters come from Washington’s Public Disclosure Commission. Here's a flavor of what the out-of-compliance lobbyists received in their mailboxes.

“This letter is the only formal warning you will receive from PDC staff for not filing timely lobbying reports during 2013.”

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington House Democrats have unveiled a proposed two-year budget that looks a lot like Governor Jay Inslee’s. It would renew expiring tax hikes, close several tax exemptions and put the new money into public schools.

House Democrats would actually spend a tad more than the governor. But their approach is very similar. For example: extend an expiring tax on beer and end the sales tax exemption for bottled water and shoppers from sales tax free Oregon.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Recent tragedies in Seattle have triggered an emergency discussion of drunk driving laws. Governor Jay Inslee said Tuesday it’s not acceptable that it takes a fifth DUI in ten years before a driver is charged with a felony. But changing that policy would be costly.

Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington Governor Jay Inslee is demanding a renewed crackdown on drunk drivers. This after recent tragedies in the Seattle area.

The Democrat Tuesday called for more DUI patrols, more resources for prosecutors and stricter rules for ignition interlock devices.

“We've got to understand a drinking driver is just as dangerous as someone out there with a bomb in their car because that’s what they are," the governor said. "They’re rolling time bombs and that’s why I believe we need to be much more aggressive.”

Washington Department of Licensing

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Stricter guidelines may come to a program that lets undercover police officers in Washington obtain fictitious driver licenses. The Washington House could vote soon on a measure that would require additional safeguards to ensure the false IDs are not misused.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

SEATTLE – When Washington voters legalized recreational marijuana last fall, they handed the state’s Liquor Control Board a regulatory nightmare. There’s no manual for how to create a safe and legal market for pot – something that’s never been done before.

State Representative Roger Goodman – speaking after a recent meeting on marijuana legalization – says the giggle factor is gone.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The mostly Republican majority in the Washington state Senate has unveiled its budget proposal. It would put $1 billion more into basic education without raising taxes. The spending blueprint released Wednesday contrasts sharply with what Governor Jay Inslee proposed last week.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Transportation leaders in the Washington Senate have proposed what they call a “barebones” roads, ferries and transit budget for the next two years. The spending plan rolled out Wednesday in Olympia includes no new sources of funding for highway projects.

Republican Curtis King co-chairs the Senate Transportation committee. At a press conference, he acknowledged there’s a lot of pressure for a gas tax package this year.

Washington Legislature

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In the coming months, Washington state will embark on a study of the best ways to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. The research is one provision of a measure Governor Jay Inslee signed into law Tuesday. It’s a key legislative win for the Democrat.

So why are Republicans declaring victory?

In the end, Governor Inslee got his climate change bill. But it came out looking a bit different then it went in. That’s because Republicans now largely control the Washington Senate. They rewrote key sections of the bill.

Abortion-rights supporters say they have enough votes to pass a controversial insurance mandate measure in the Washington state Senate. But it appears unlikely to clear a Republican-led health care committee before a Wednesday deadline.

Things got testy Monday at a public hearing on the measure. Democrat Karen Keiser urged Republican Chair Randi Becker to allow a committee vote on the bill.

“It’s the right thing to do and I would really ask you to consider my request,” Keiser said. To which Becker responded, “Thank you. We’ll consider it.”

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network files

OLYMPIA, Wash. – On the campaign trail, Washington Governor Jay Inslee talked about financing education by growing the economy. Now the Democrat proposes to raise $1.2 billion for schools by extending some tax increases and ending some tax breaks.

In Spokane last June I moderated the first gubernatorial debate between Jay Inslee and Rob McKenna. And I put this question to both candidates: if elected, would you ask voters to support a new tax for schools to respond to the Washington Supreme Court’s ruling that the state is not adequately funding education.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – It’s an idea that’s catching on around the country: give school principals the power to reject a teacher assigned to their building. Giving principals veto power has already passed the Washington Senate. But at a public hearing in the House Friday the idea faced opposition – and not just from teachers.

In the education documentary “Waiting For Superman” they talk about the dance of the lemons.

Waiting For Superman: “Principals have their lemons. These are teachers who are chronically bad: they know it, the other teachers know it …”

TVW

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s new marijuana consultant says the world will learn a lot from the state’s move to legalize pot. Professor Mark Kleiman believes Washington is the right size state to try this voter-approved experiment.

And, he says, it bodes well that state regulators are taking it seriously.

“Even people that I know who really think that marijuana legalization is a bad idea and will not work out well, are enthusiastic about the idea that Washington is going to try it in a sensible way because then we’ll know something.”

Dan Iggers / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – One of the Northwest’s most visible payday lenders is back in the middle of a fight over short-term loans. Moneytree wants the Washington legislature to approve a new type of consumer loan.

This new loan would give short-term borrowers more money up front, but also more time to pay it off. Someone in a financial pinch could borrow up to $1,500 cash over 12 months.

In testimony before a panel of lawmakers, opponent Bruce Neas noted that all the fees and interest could add up to more than the amount of the original loan.

Pages