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. 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.

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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.

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.”

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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 …”

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.”

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.

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.

Two Washington state lawmakers are raising questions about a quasi-secret program inside the state’s Department of Licensing. For decades, the agency has issued false IDs to undercover police officers. But the legislature never approved the program.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

National Institute of Justice / Wikimedia Commons

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.

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.

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.

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.

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