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.

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?

The Washington Legislature approved rules to allow lawmakers to meet remotely because of the pandemic. The in-person votes Monday in Olympia happened under tight security with strict COVID-19 protocols in place.

Amid the ongoing pandemic and threats by far-right protesters to "occupy" the Capitol, Washington lawmakers will convene Monday for what will ultimately be a mostly remote 2021 session with a focus on the ongoing response to COVID-19, police reform, addressing climate change and writing a two-year state budget.

As he prepares to begin a third term in office, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is proposing a new tax on health care premiums to fund post-pandemic public health. He’s also once again urging the Legislature to pass a capital gains tax.

The tax measures are contained in Inslee’s two-year, $57.6 billion operating budget proposal released Thursday in advance of the 2021 Legislative session. Separately, the Democratic governor also released proposed capital construction and transportation budgets.

The first doses of Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine should start arriving in Washington on Monday, with the first vaccinations of front line health care workers beginning as early as Tuesday.

An upbeat Washington Gov. Jay Inslee announced that timeline at a rare Sunday news conference.

“We are ready to go,” Inslee said. “We now know there will be an end to this turmoil and this trauma and this challenge.”

For the second Saturday in a row, a gun was fired as groups of protesters from opposing ends of the political spectrum clashed in Olympia.

At Providence St. Peter Hospital in Olympia, nurses with desk jobs are being told to prepare to come back to the front lines, and elective surgeries and procedures are once again being put on hold.

The desperate measures come amidst an ongoing spike in coronavirus cases in the community and as the hospital prepares for a post-Thanksgiving surge of COVID-19 patients.

“Unfortunately, I think within the next week it’s going to be a significant rise in COVID-19,” said Dr. Kevin Caserta, the chief medical officer for Providence SW Washington.

The coronavirus pandemic has resulted in Washington foster youth spending more nights in hotel rooms while overall reports of child abuse and neglect have declined precipitously. Those are among the pandemic-related findings of an annual report from the state’s Office of the Family and Children's Ombuds (OFCO) released Monday. 

The director of public health in the third most populous county in the United States will be Washington's next secretary of health. 

Gov. Jay Inslee on Tuesday announced the appointment of Dr. Umair A. Shah to lead the state Department of Health beginning on December 21.

Since 2013, Shah has been executive director of Harris County Public Health in Houston, Texas. He will replace outgoing Secretary John Wiesman who has served in the position since 2013. Previously, Wiesman announced his plan to leave the post at the end of the year to take a teaching job in North Carolina. 

Washington Republicans say the Legislature should immediately meet in special session to address the economic fallout from Gov. Jay Inslee’s latest Covid-19 orders – and even consider tapping the state’s “rainy day” fund.

Under Inslee's orders, gyms, movie theaters, bowling alleys and museums will once again have to close. Also, restaurants and bars will have to cease offering indoor dining service and limit outdoor dining to five people per table. Many other businesses will also be affected. The new rules will remain in effect for at least the next four weeks. 

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee has scheduled an unusual Sunday news conference to announce new restrictions to combat what his office calls "the rapid and alarming rise of Covid in our state."

Previously, Inslee's office had said an announcement would be forthcoming as early as Monday.

On a recent rainy morning, a long line of cars snaked around the block at Providence Southwest Washington’s drive-through testing site near Olympia.

“I’m in awe,” said Irene Wood who sat at the wheel of her Prius, mask on, having just been tested. “It’s awful and it’s amazing there’s this many people being tested.”

This was Wood’s second trip to the testing site in a week. Her first test came back negative. But then she hugged her daughter who had previously tested positive.

Predictions of a possible “Blue Wave” in Washington state did not materialize last week, despite President Trump’s unpopularity among the electorate. As of Monday, he had received just under 39 percent of the vote to President-elect Joe Biden’s 58 percent.

Initially, it looked like Democrats might be poised to pick up several legislative seats and further pad their healthy majorities in both the Washington House and Senate. But as later-arriving ballots have been counted, the advantage has swung the other way giving Republicans the edge in several tight races.

Despite intense interest in the 2020 election, and a ballot return rate that's already over 60 percent, voter registrations in Washington have lagged this year, compared to four years ago.

According to figures provided by the Secretary of State’s office, 513,000 people registered to vote in Washington prior to the 2016 election. So far this year, this state has seen approximately 440,000 new registrants, a 14 percent drop compared to four years ago. However, the last two months have shown something of a rebound.

In the battleground states of North Carolina and Pennsylvania legal battles have raged over whether postmarked ballots that arrive via mail after Election Day will be counted. In other states, like Wisconsin, it’s already been decided -- they won’t.

Meanwhile in Washington -- a non-battleground state -- ballots that arrive up to 20 days after the election, or by November 23, will still count, so long as they were postmarked on or before Election Day.

That’s been the long-standing rule in Washington going back decades.

State and local election officials in Washington sought to reassure voters Monday that robust security measures are in place to protect against interference with the general election, even as they acknowledged the likelihood that bad actors will try to sow distrust and undermine confidence in the national election results.

Coronavirus cases are spiking. A major election is looming. And Washington’s legislative session is still two months away. But Washington’s beer lobby has a message for top elected officials that apparently can't wait.

State and local election officials in Washington said Thursday that election systems here are secure and haven’t been hacked. Those assurances follow multiple reports in recent days of efforts by foreign actors to interfere with the upcoming national election.

In a year that seems all about the presidential election, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening down the ballot. In Washington, all nine statewide elected positions are up this year. But some of the fiercest action, and biggest spending, is happening in state legislative races.

For context, Democrats currently hold strong majorities in both the Washington House (57 to 41) and Senate (28 to 21 -- the 21st is a Democrat who votes with Republicans).

From Clark County to Whatcom County, from Puyallup to the heart of Seattle, only a handful of the 124 legislative contests are fiercely competitive. Some feature one Republican and one Democrat. Others are intra-party contests.

We aren’t going to get to them all. Instead, here’s a quick guide to six of the hottest statehouse contests across the state.

Note: the campaign finance numbers below were current as of October 22. For the latest numbers click here and sort by money raised or spent. 

Washington’s race for governor is a lopsided, yet surprisingly fiery contest this year. It pits incumbent Democrat Jay Inslee against Republican Loren Culp, a first-time candidate. Inslee is seeking a rare third term while Culp is trying to pull off the upset of the century.

For more than half a century, Republicans have had a lock on Washington’s Secretary of State’s office. This year, Democrats hope to end that five decade run by unseating incumbent Kim Wyman who’s seeking a third term.

Democrats feel they have the political winds at their back and an unusually strong challenger in Gael Tarleton, a state lawmaker and former Port of Seattle commissioner who once worked as a defense intelligence analyst for the Pentagon.

Republicans, meanwhile, are counting on a long history of ticket-splitting by Washington voters who might repudiate President Donald Trump at the top of the ticket, but be willing to support a veteran elections official and familiar state Republican further down the ballot.

Outgoing Washington Lt. Gov. Cyrus Habib is on unpaid leave attending Jesuit training in California and does not plan to return to his office before his term is up in January, according to his office and the office of Gov. Jay Inslee.

In a statement Tuesday to the public radio Northwest News Network and the Associated Press, the executive director of the lieutenant governor's office, Kristina Brown, said Habib, a Democrat, began his leave on Sept. 1 and notified both Inslee and Senate Majority Leader Andy Billig at that time.

Former Washington state Auditor Troy Kelley plans to ask the U.S. Supreme Court to formally review his federal convictions for possession of stolen funds, filing false tax returns and making false statements.

The move comes after the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals earlier this month denied Kelley’s request for a rehearing of his case by all of the judges on that court. Previously, a three-judge panel rejected Kelley’s appeal seeking to overturn his convictions.

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