Austin Jenkins

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.

The state of Washington will soon offer an alternative to prison for people with a serious mental illness who commit a crime. Gov. Jay Inslee signed the bill into law Monday.

Under the new Mental Health Sentencing Alternative, judges will have the option to sentence a person to community supervision and treatment in lieu of prison.

For the second time in less than a year, Washington’s Corrections Ombuds (OCO) is warning that the state’s prison system needs to do more to prevent inmate suicides.

In a 15-page investigation released Monday, the OCO found that two inmates died by suicide in 2020 after prison staff failed to recognize signs of mental distress and didn’t follow suicide prevention policies.

“Suicides are preventable. There should be zero, that should be the goal” said Assistant Ombuds Dr. Patricia David, the investigation’s author and the OCO’s Director of Patient Safety and Performance Review.

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday signed into law a new tax on capital gains aimed at the state’s wealthiest residents.

But the future of the tax is uncertain.

For the first time in its 40-year history, the Washington Department of Corrections (DOC) will be led by a woman.

On Thursday, Gov. Jay Inslee named Cheryl Strange as the agency’s next secretary.

Fifteen weeks ago, majority Democrats in the Washington Legislature convened a 105-day session vowing to address the fallout from COVID-19, police accountability, greenhouse gas emissions and issues of racial justice.

On Sunday, Democrats adjourned the session having accomplished much of what they set out to do, including passage of a number of sweeping bills that Gov. Jay Inslee, in a statement, called “historic” in nature.

"This session's accomplishments are as important to the long-term well-being of our state as any session I've seen," Inslee said. 

The state of Washington will beef up security around the governor’s executive residence following a major breach of security on January 6, the same day a mob stormed the U.S. Capitol.

Money for the upgrades is included in the state’s next two-year capital construction budget which the state Senate approved Friday.

The Washington House has approved a bill to institute a seven percent tax on capital gains over $250,000 from the sale of such things as stocks and bonds. 

The 52 to 46 vote followed an hours-long debate that spanned two days. 

The son-in-law of the Washington State Patrol chief resigned as a trooper after investigations into allegations of on-the-job sex and sexual assault. He is now fighting to keep his badge, testing the state's narrow law for decertifying police.

The two states are both led by strong Democratic majorities and face similar issues. Only one of them is successfully passing legislation.

Washington House Democrats on Friday unveiled a proposed two-year state budget that seeks, among other things, to head off a wave of mass evictions once the state’s eviction moratorium expires.

“Our goal is to wipe the slate clean for landlords and tenants,” said state Rep. Nicole Macri, a vice chair of the House Appropriations Committee.

A new state capital gains tax. An expanded and fully funded tax credit for lower-income families. Fresh investments in disaster preparation and foundational public health. And significant new spending in early learning and child care.

Those are among the elements of a proposed $59.2 billion, two-year budget Washington Senate Democrats unveiled on Thursday.

Former Washington state Auditor Troy Kelley has exhausted his appeals and now faces the prospect of having to report to a federal prison to serve a 366-day prison sentence after the U.S. Supreme Court denied a petition for review of his case.

Washington’s eviction moratorium will be extended through June and two million more Washingtonians will be eligible to receive a COVID-19 vaccine beginning March 31.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the moratorium extension and the speeded-up vaccine timeline at a virtual news conference on Thursday.

Last June, Washington’s chief revenue forecaster delivered the bad news to state lawmakers and state officials.

“The longest economic expansion in U.S. history is, unfortunately, over. We are now in a recession,” Steve Lerch told the state’s Economic and Revenue Forecast Council.

At the time, Lerch projected the state would lose nearly $9 billion in revenues over four years. But he also emphasized there was a lot of uncertainty in the forecast.

Sure enough, the September and November forecasts weren’t nearly as bleak. Taken together they reduced the almost $9 billion drop to a projected $3.3 billion reduction.

Then came Wednesday's March revenue forecast. It showed the state returning to pre-pandemic revenue levels.

It's the news many have been waiting for. Starting March 22, all 39 Washington counties will advance to Phase 3 under a revised COVID-19 reopening plan Gov. Jay Inslee unveiled on  Thursday.

Washington’s 105-day legislative session has crossed the halfway point and a key deadline for policy (non-budget) bills to clear their chamber of origin has passed. Majority Democrats are moving swiftly to enact a pandemic-era agenda focused on issues like tax reform, police accountability, racial equity and global climate change. Minority Republicans, meanwhile, are seeing a few of their bills advance while also objecting to much of what Democrats are pushing forward. So, what’s moving and what’s not? Let’s take a look.

Grocery store employees and other essential workers in Washington, regardless of age, will be eligible to begin getting the COVID-19 vaccine later this month, followed in April by people who have two or more medical conditions and those living in congregate settings.

Gov. Jay Inslee announced the target dates, along with revised guidelines on who’s eligible, during a news conference Thursday.

Police officers, along with jail and prison staff, would be barred from using neck holds or restraints designed to restrict a person’s airway or blood flow, but the use of tear gas would still be allowed in limited circumstances under a bill that’s passed the Washington House.

The police tactics measure, House Bill 1054, is a major plank in a sweeping police accountability agenda brought forth this year by majority Democrats. The focus on police reform follows last year’s protests nationally over the killings of Black people by police, includng George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville.

Even as the state of Washington’s revenue picture improves, majority Democrats in the Legislature appear committed to a course that will, one way or another, involve raising taxes this year. Not necessarily to balance a recession-era budget, but instead to reform a tax code they view as regressive and to address gaps and inequities exposed by the global pandemic.

With the 105-day legislative session approaching the halfway mark, Democratic leaders are making clear that existing revenues, combined with the state’s $1.8 billion rainy day fund, plus any additional federal relief dollars the state may receive, likely won’t be enough to fund all of their priorities.

At the same time, Democrats increasingly appear to view the topic of “tax fairness” as a winning issue that is both a matter of good public policy and good politics.

Following a year of frequent armed protests, some of which turned violent, the Washington Senate voted Thursday to ban the open carry of firearms at the state Capitol and within 250 feet of permitted demonstrations anywhere in the state.

The mostly party line vote was 28 to 20.

“Guns and polarized politics is a bad combination and it poses serious risks to public health and safety,” said Democratic state Sen. Patty Kuderer, the prime sponsor of the bill.

Washington’s sprawling Capitol campus features war memorials, a granite monument to fallen police officers, a replica of a Roman-style fountain and a brass sundial.

But as soon as this summer a new monument will join the collection. It will honor George Bush, Washington’s first Black pioneer, along with his son, William Owen Bush, who was the state’s first Black lawmaker, and their family.

A fresh round of federal aid will soon be flowing to Washington businesses and individuals hit hard by the COVID pandemic.

On Friday, Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a $2.2 billion relief package funded with money approved by Congress in December.

As majority Democrats in the Washington Legislature lay the groundwork for tax increases to fund the next two-year budget, minority Republicans are jumping out ahead by releasing their own tax-averse budget blueprints.

The plans unveiled by House and Senate Republicans in recent days have no chance of passing the Democratically-controlled Legislature, but do offer alternative sets of spending priorities. The budget frameworks also allow Republicans to draw a philosophical line in the sand around new and higher taxes.

How much you pay for auto, home and renters insurance depends a lot on your credit score. If your credit is good, you tend to pay less. If it’s not so good, you likely pay more.

Now, Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler wants to ban the use of credit-based insurance scoring to set rates. He says it’s a matter of racial justice. 

“Inconsistent.” “Disastrous.” “Senseless.” Those are just some of the words being used to describe Washington Gov. Jay Inslee’s plan for reopening the state – and they’re the words of his fellow Democrats. It’s a sign of rising frustration over the slow pace of getting restaurants, gyms and other businesses open again.

From the start of the pandemic, Governor Inslee faced criticism from conservatives upset about his mask mandate and stay home order. But over the last week, there’s been a noticeable shift. Now members of Inslee’s own party are assailing him.

Washington billionaires would pay a “wealth tax” under a proposal in the state House that will get a public hearing on Tuesday.

The bill is sponsored by Democratic state Rep. Noel Frame, who chairs the House Finance Committee, and would impose a one percent tax on intangible financial property, such as stocks and bonds, futures contracts and publicly traded options. A billionaire’s first $1 billion in “taxable worldwide wealth” would be exempt.

This year, the Washington State Legislature has welcomed a record number of lawmakers of color, including a record number of Black lawmakers who are all Democrats.

Gov. Jay Inslee on Thursday announced adjustments to his phased reopening plan that will allow two western Washington regions, comprising seven counties and nearly 60 percent of the state’s population, to move to Phase 2 beginning on Monday.

A proposal to impose sweeping restrictions on police tactics and techniques in Washington is highlighting stark differences of opinion between police and reform groups.

Under very tight security, the 2021 legislative session got underway in Olympia today. KUOW’s Austin Jenkins was there. He joins us now to tell us what happened.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

There was a large law enforcement presence at the state Capitol today, after last week's insurrection in D.C. and the breaching of the gate at the governor's mansion in Olympia last week as well. What happened today on the security front?

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