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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Washington State Legislature
8:15 am
Fri March 4, 2011

Audit on K-12 health benefits runs afoul of unions

Majority Democrats in the Washington Legislature are working to close a multi-billion dollar budget gap. But they're not likely to implement a change the State Auditor says could save $180 million over the two-year budget cycle, as the idea runs afoul of the powerful teacher's union.

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Education Reform
7:50 am
Thu March 3, 2011

Gregoire makes another push for 'Education Czar'

Governor Chris Gregoire is making another push to create a cabinet-level Department of Education. The idea appears to be faltering in the Washington legislature.

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Army Suicides
9:23 am
Wed March 2, 2011

50 Joint Base Lewis-McChord suicides since 2002

This is an image from an Army video that's intended to talk directly with soldiers about the topic of suicide and suicide prevention.
U.S. Army

Fifty soldiers from Joint Base Lewis McChord have killed themselves since the start of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. Some committed suicide on-base, others off and still others while deployed overseas.  Leaders at JBLM say they’ve dramatically stepped up efforts to combat suicide. But they admit it’s not easy to change Army culture.

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K-12 Education
4:10 am
Wed March 2, 2011

Teacher layoff reform bill dies in Legislature

A proposal to base teacher layoffs on performance - and not seniority - has died in the Washington legislature. The bill's demise is a victory for the state’s teacher's union, but a frustrating defeat for some lawmakers. 

Currently, when school districts reduce staff newer more junior teachers typically lose their jobs first. A bipartisan proposal in the Washington legislature would have changed that.

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Army Suicide
8:56 pm
Tue March 1, 2011

Family faults Army in case of AWOL soldier killed by police

U.S. Army

It was a surreal scene last August 27th in downtown Salt Lake City. A soldier - AWOL from his base in Western Washington - emerged from an underground parking lot. He was dressed head-to-toe in combat gear and carrying a rifle.

Seconds later the soldier was dead. Now, an internal Army investigation has found shortcomings in how the case was handled. The family of Specialist Brandon Barrett blames the Army for not intervening sooner.

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Shellfish Harvesting
7:48 am
Tue March 1, 2011

Washington poised to get tougher with shellfish operators

This story has been updated to correct the dollar amount the state believes to have been poached.

Last summer, we brought you a story about gaps in the system that's supposed to keep Washington shellfish safe to eat. Now state lawmakers appear ready to get tougher with shellfish operators who violate food safety laws.

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State Growth
6:31 am
Thu February 24, 2011

Census: Washington’s Latino population jumps 71%

Washington population change by county. The two counties in yellow, Pacific and Garfleld, lost population.
U.S. Census Bureau

Washington's Latino population grew 71% in the last decade. That's according to newly released 2010 Census Data. The dramatic rise has implications for how Washington redraws its Congressional districts.

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Washington State Legislature
10:51 am
Wed February 23, 2011

Lawmakers consider ideas to limit rising debt

It's raining debt in Olympia, and state lawmakers are looking at ways to put limits on it.
AP

Washington's total debt load is twice the national median – and one of the highest in the nation. That's the warning from the State Treasurer. Now lawmakers are considering two proposals to cap how much Washington can borrow for capital construction projects.

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Immigrant Licenses
8:17 am
Tue February 22, 2011

Legislature considers two-tier driver's license system

A two-tier driver's license system is getting traction in the legislature. This is how it would work: applicants who provide a valid social security number would get a regular license. Drivers who can't prove they are in this country legally would get an alternative version.

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Liquor Laws
8:10 am
Thu February 17, 2011

Despite initiative defeat, Costco still pushing liquor privatization

A shopper holds up a bottle of wine from a large selection at a Costco warehouse store.
Elaine Thompson AP Photo

Voters defeated not one, but two liquor privatization measures last fall -- one of them sponsored by Costco. But a key lawmaker says that's not stopping the Issaquah warehouse chain from continuing to push the issue in Olympia.

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Washington State Legislature
8:05 am
Fri February 11, 2011

One month down, lots of work ahead on budget

Supporters of pre-K programs in Washington rally on the steps of the statehouse in opposition to proposed budget cuts.
Austin Jenkins N3

Washington's legislature has hit the one-month mark. Budget writers say a deal is close at hand between the House and Senate to re-balance the current two-year spending plan. After that, attention will shift to the closing a multi-billion dollar shortfall in the next two-year budget.

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Washington Legislature
12:45 am
Thu February 10, 2011

Immigrants' rally in Olympia against driver's license bills

Immigrant rights groups are pushing back against efforts to deny driver's licenses to illegal immigrants in Washington. They rallied at the Capitol Wednesday in opposition to several legislative proposals. 

In the Capitol Rotunda, the chant was:

Safety first, driver's licenses for all.

Members of the group OneAmerica voiced opposition to the half-dozen proposals in the Washington legislature to require proof – or at least evidence of – lawful presence in the United States in order to get a driver's license.

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Business
1:23 pm
Wed February 9, 2011

One year later: Did Idaho's "love letter" attract Washington and Oregon businesses?

Idaho Gov. Bruce Otter delivers his 'love letter' to Washington and Oregon businesses, in 2010.
justmaketheshift.com

Valentine's Day is just around the corner. So we thought it was a good time to update a story from nearly a year ago. Last March, Idaho Governor Butch Otter penned a "love letter" to Washington and Oregon businesses. He was trying to romance companies into moving to his state.

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Washington Legislature
7:47 am
Wed February 9, 2011

Treasurer, lawmakers seek constitutional amendment on pensions

A bipartisan group of Washington lawmakers proposes a constitutional amendment to require pension payments.
Austin Jenkins N3

Washington's pension system is underfunded to the tune of nearly $7 billion. Now the State Treasurer and a bipartisan group of lawmakers say the time has come to force the legislature to pay the pension bill.

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Basic Health Plan
2:23 pm
Thu February 3, 2011

Proposal would cut illegal immigrants from Basic Health Plan

Undocumented immigrants would lose state medical coverage under a proposal to save the popular Basic Health insurance program. The get-tough measure is part of a budget-cutting plan unveiled by the State Senate. But it's at odds with a competing approach in the House.

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