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.

His 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

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.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – For decades, police officers in Washington have been able to obtain false driver licenses for undercover work. But this quasi-secret program inside the Department of Licensing only recently came to light. It turns out the confidential ID program was never approved by the legislature. Now two state lawmakers are calling for more oversight to prevent possible abuses.

As a street cop in the early 1980s, Mitch Barker went undercover to work drugs and vice. The Washington Department of Licensing helped him assume a fake identity.

Washington Legislature

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The serious illness of a Washington state Senator could threaten to alter the balance of power in that legislative chamber. The majority is now potentially short a critical vote.

Republican Mike Carrell is home battling a blood disease and is a candidate for a bone marrow transplant. His condition is serious enough he was recently hospitalized. With Carrell gone, the mostly Republican Majority Coalition Caucus has just 24 members – one shy of an actual majority.

In a statement, Democratic leader Ed Murray sent wishes for a “speedy recovery.”

OLYMPIA, Wash. – New disclosure reports are out on money spent for lobbying in Olympia. Who tops the list? So far Washington’s teachers’ union is spending the most to influence state lawmakers this legislative session.

The Washington Education Association has five top priorities for the 2013 legislature. The list includes more money for schools as directed by the Washington Supreme Court. The union is also pushing for competitive salaries and benefits for teachers and support staff.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – If you’re marking milestones in the slow climb out of the Great Recession, here’s a new one: Washington state tax collections have now recovered to pre-recession levels. That was one key takeaway from Wednesday’s quarterly revenue forecast.

In late 2007, the economy went into free fall. For two years, Washington tax revenues plunged. Since 2010 it’s been a slow, steady climb back up. Now tax collections are back to where they were before the economy tanked. Bright spots include an uptick in auto sales and signs of an improving housing market.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Budget writers in Olympia are breathing a sigh of relief. Despite the federal sequester and other risks to the economy, the state’s new revenue forecast out Wednesday is mostly flat. Even so, Washington lawmakers still face a $1 billion-plus shortfall and a court-ordered down payment for public schools.

In advance of this March forecast, the scuttlebutt in the Washington state Capitol was revenues might take a significant hit. The source of the anxiety: lower personal income, lower U.S. GDP and concerns about the federal sequester.

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Washington’s nearly $1 billion shortfall could grow after Wednesday’s revenue forecast. The state already faces higher than expected Medicaid costs. It’s widely expected the March forecast will show revenues coming in lower than expected. The governor and legislative budget writers have been waiting to see what the forecast brings before they roll out their spending proposals.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Predicting marijuana usage rates in Washington might come down to a test Cheech and Chong would appreciate: the size of the joint. So says one of the state’s new pot legalization consultants.

There’s a classic Cheech and Chong scene where they smoke a massive joint while driving down the road. Cheech says “Looks like a quarter pounder, man.”

Dartmouth College

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The apparent winner of a competition to become Washington’s marijuana consultant is a firm led by a renowned expert on drugs and drug policy. That’s according to an email sent Monday to the more than 100 bidders for the job. The official announcement is expected from Washington’s Liquor Control Board Tuesday morning.

Washington State Archives

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Booth Gardner, Washington’s 19th governor, has died at age 76. Gardner’s family says he passed away Friday night from complications of Parkinson's disease. Gardner had lived with the illness for more than a decade.

Democrat Booth Gardner took office in January of 1985. He was a Harvard-educated businessman with a playful manner. Longtime newspaper columnist Joel Connelly offers these snapshot memories.

BP plc

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Hopes for a rosier budget outlook in Washington are dimming. Expected savings in Medicaid haven’t materialized. And many state lawmakers expect this week’s quarterly revenue forecast to show a downward slide. Add to that, a Supreme Court ruling that requires more funding for schools.

In response, Democratic Governor Jay Inslee is expected to announce soon a list of tax “loopholes” – as he calls them – he wants to eliminate to fund schools. But closing tax exemptions is easier said than done.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – A controversial proposal to require criminal background checks for most gun purchases appears to have died in the Washington House. That announcement came Tuesday night after two days of efforts to wrangle enough votes to pass the measure.

M Glasgow / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Efforts to muster the 50 votes needed to pass a universal background check measure for gun sales were falling short Monday afternoon in the Washington House of Representatives. A planned vote after 3:00 pm was delayed while backers of the measure continued to work behind the scenes to secure the necessary support. Meanwhile majority Democrats moved on from the topic of reducing gun violence to consider non-related health care measures.

Washington Legislature

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The fate of a universal background check measure in the Washington state House could be decided this week. Wednesday is a key cut-off deadline. But recently the gun control measure lost a pivotal “yes” vote.

Maureen Walsh was one of two Republicans who signed onto the measure to require background checks for all gun sales. She says she did so thinking it sounded like a reasonable response to the Newtown, Connecticut school shooting.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – In the world of state legislatures, there’s a powerful breed of players who normally shun the spotlight. They prefer to work behind the scenes to influence policy outcomes. We’re talking about business lobbyists. Inside this often hidden world, you’ll meet two of the most successful corporate contract lobbyists in the Washington state capitol. And learn some of their tricks of the trade.

Petr Brož / Wikimedia

OLYMPIA, Wash. – U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder is scheduled to testify on Capitol Hill Wednesday. He will likely get questions about Washington and Colorado’s new marijuana laws. Pressure is mounting on the Obama administration to block the pot legalization measures.

The new push for federal invention comes from a United Nations-based drug agency and nine former DEA chiefs. They say Washington and Colorado's new recreational pot laws violate international treaties.

Quagmar / Flickr

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Efforts to get gun rights leaders in Washington to support -- or at least not oppose -- universal background checks appear to have hit a stumbling block. At issue is a state database that tracks pistol sales. Second Amendment advocates want it shut down, but the state’s sheriffs and police chiefs say it’s a vital law enforcement tool.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Three months ago, 23 Republicans and two breakaway Democrats seized control of the Washington state Senate. At the time, Majority Leader Rodney Tom, one of the Democrats, pledged a new spirit of bipartisanship.

“The public out there is hungry for us to come together, to work together in a collaborative manner and that’s exactly what this coalition is trying to accomplish,” he said.

But as the halfway point of the legislative session approaches, the Washington state Senate has become a hotbed of partisan recriminations.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – Raising taxes in Washington just got a whole lot easier. The state Supreme Court Thursday threw out the requirement that tax increases muster a two-thirds vote of the legislature. Democrats say the ruling will allow more options as lawmakers grapple with ongoing budget woes. But Republicans vow to uphold the will of voters who have repeatedly supported a high bar for tax hikes.

Austin Jenkins / Northwest News Network

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the two-thirds requirement for tax hikes is a personal defeat for initiative activist Tim Eyman. Over the years, he sponsored three of the five ballot measures that enacted the supermajority rule.

Outside the Capitol after the ruling, reporters noted that Eyman seemed more subdued than defiant.

Cacophony / Wikipedia

OLYMPIA, Wash. - Washington Democrats say it’s a victory for democracy. Republicans call it a defeat for taxpayers. In a major decision Thursday, the Washington Supreme Court tossed out the state’s two-thirds supermajority requirement for raising taxes. In a 6-3 decision, the court ruled that the voter-approved law violates a provision of the Washington state constitution that requires a simple majority vote in the state legislature to approve bills.

Cacophony / Wikipedia

OLYMPIA, Wash. – The Washington Supreme Court is expected to rule Thursday in a case that challenges the two-thirds requirement for tax hikes. A lower court judge previously found the supermajority rule unconstitutional.

If the two-thirds majority for tax hikes which Washington voters have repeatedly approved -- most recently in November with nearly a two-thirds vote -- is thrown out by the court, then really the only remedy for supporters is to try to get a constitutional amendment passed to actually enshrine it in the constitution. That is no easy feat.

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