Austin Jenkins

Olympia Correspondent

Austin Jenkins, KPLU’s and N3’s Olympia Reporter, has been covering the Washington State Legislature and regional public policy issues since 2004. Prior to becoming a public radio reporter, Austin worked as a television reporter in Seattle, Portland and Boise – to name just a few of his stops. Austin grew up in Seattle and is a graduate of Connecticut College. Austin’s memorable moment in public radio: “There are too many to pick just one: Covering Washington’s contested 2004 gubernatorial election, flying in an Army Reserve Chinook helicopter to the top of Mt. Rainier, spending 24-hours on a tug boat on the Snake River, the list goes on.”  You can also track all the current events at Washinton's capitol on Austin's blog, The Washington Ledge.

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State Legislature
2:47 pm
Tue April 2, 2013

Republicans declare victory on Inslee's climate bill

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 Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law Tuesday. It’s a key legislative win for the Democrat. So why are Republicans declaring victory?

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State Legislature
6:01 pm
Mon April 1, 2013

Even with enough votes, abortion coverage mandate may fail

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.”

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State Legislature
12:20 pm
Thu March 28, 2013

Inslee proposes to end several tax breaks to fund schools

Oregon shoppers in Washington would pay sales tax and bottled water would be taxed under a proposal from Governor Jay Inslee to raise $1.2 billion in additional money for public schools.

Inslee, a Democrat, proposed Thursday to end or modify a dozen tax exemptions, extend two expiring tax hikes, and cut back by 25-percent a favorable tax rate that many businesses enjoy.

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State Legislature
12:26 pm
Wed March 27, 2013

False IDs for cops? Unauthorized state program faces scrutiny

Mitch Barker of the Washington Sheriffs and Police Chiefs Assoc. used a state-issued fictitious driver’s license as an undercover street cop.
Austin Jenkins Northwest News Network

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.

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State Legislature
4:24 pm
Tue March 26, 2013

State Senate majority could be imperiled by sick member

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.”

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legislature
9:03 pm
Fri March 22, 2013

Teachers' union tops lobbying spending in Olympia so far

Originally published on Fri March 22, 2013 4:45 pm

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.

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Economy
10:04 pm
Wed March 20, 2013

State's tax revenue back to pre-recession levels

Originally published on Wed March 20, 2013 4:44 pm

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.

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Marijuana legalization
2:13 pm
Tue March 19, 2013

Pot consultant: Size of joint matters in gauging pot usage

Marijuana starts stand on a shelf during the grand opening of the Seattle location of the Northwest Cannabis Market, for sales of medical marijuana products, Wednesday, Feb. 13, 2013.
Elaine Thompson Associated Press

Predicting marijuana usage rates in Washington might come down to a test Cheech and Chong would appreciate: the size of the joint. That’s according to one of the state’s new pot legalization consultants.  

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State Legislature
12:49 pm
Mon March 18, 2013

Gov. Inslee eyes tax 'loopholes' for elimination, but feasible?

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, Gov. 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.

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Law
7:52 am
Mon March 11, 2013

Washington universal gun checks measure loses pivotal supporter

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.

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Washington State Government
10:31 am
Fri March 8, 2013

Inside the world of business lobbying in Olympia

Austin Jenkins Northwest News Network

Originally published on Thu March 7, 2013 4:27 pm

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.

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Marijuana Legalization
9:17 am
Wed March 6, 2013

Pressure Mounts On Feds To Intervene In Washington, Colorado Pot Laws

Petr Brož Wikimedia

Originally published on Tue March 5, 2013 5:36 pm

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.

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Law
5:36 pm
Mon March 4, 2013

Washington Sheriffs, Police Chiefs Say Pistol Database Is Valuable Tool

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.

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Politics
5:29 pm
Fri March 1, 2013

Despite pledge to cooperate, partisan recriminations in Washington Senate

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.

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Politics
5:45 pm
Thu February 28, 2013

Defiance and praise as Washington High Court makes tax hikes easier

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.

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